Why is Bart Ehrman wrong?

Bart Ehrman argues (very graciously) that there are many inconsistencies between the Gospels which makes them unreliable.

He also argues that the early New Testament writings portray Jesus less as God (e.g. Mark) and the later writings (John / Paul) portray Jesus more as God. He argues that the followers of Jesus attributed the characteristics of God over time as it better suited their arguments. His conclusions are that Jesus was not God and he has become an agnostic.

If others have greater scholarship in this area and want to correct my understanding of his work, please do so, I am not an expert. I do enjoy listening to him and typically learn as I do, I think his video on the gospel of Judas was very interesting.

So then, why is he wrong?

My argument why Bart Ehrman is wrong is multi-faceted.

First the Gospels are not written as historic documents, they were written to convey theological doctrine to a specific audience (Mark to the Romans, Luke to the Greeks, Matthew to the Jews). The sequence of events is not critical to the doctrine at all. Also, I believe the recorded events in Jesus life were just the “tip of the iceberg”. Specific event occurred multiple times and may have had different participants (e.g. the woman who washed Jesus feet with her tears). The people who went to the tomb is a source of inconsistency, who went to the tomb and when? In the Schofield reference Bible, a composit narrative was created from the perspective of combining the different accounts, I believe this is the most accurate representation.

My most important point is that even if the New Testament was to be completely eliminated, it would not change my faith as the “Master Gospel” is all in the Old Testament. This is the template against which all the Gospels should be compared. The complete incarnation, life, substitutionary death and resurrection are all there. This is why I see danger in classifying the Old Testament as allegorical.

I am interested to hear other’s logical arguments and conclusions.

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I don’t have any arguments, I just read Michael Bird’s stuff on Ehrman and say, “What he said.”

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Thank you Christy. I’m excited to check out that resource!

N.T. Wright also has some very helpful books, podcasts, and YouTube videos on Jesus’ dieity (and an interesting take on Bart Ehrman).

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Note that Paul is probably earlier than any of the gospels.

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The inconsistencies between texts are mostly negligible, even thought there are a lot of variations.

Ever do one of those “spot the differences between two pictures”? Now imagine there are 50 pictures, all copies of an original–each with one, two, or three different minor variations. How confident do you think you could be as to what the original looks like?

That’s not stated well, or maybe you got the wrong idea. In the first few minutes here he explains how he became agnostic, and that it wasn’t related to his scholarship.

What I gather from the first couple minutes is that Bart Ehrman started out as a fundamentalist evangelical Chrisian who, when he became convinced that what he had grown up believing was wrong, decided first that he didn’t know whether there was any divine intention directing the universe and secondly didn’t believe that if such a thing did exist that it was the God described in the Bible. Apparently it was essentially the problem of the existence of evil in a world thought to have been created by an all knowing, all powerful and all loving God. My thought on that is that if we ourselves are not all knowing in regard to God’s nature and if He fails to achieve all the qualities we imbue Him with, then maybe we should adjust the height of the pedestal we choose for Him. I think a fundamentalist upbringing sets people up to expect a level of certainty in regard to a range of questions the answers to which people are in no position to understand. Fundamentalism breeds undeserved entitlement.

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It should be a reasonably safe conclusion that anything which we can “set on a pedestal” and put over in the corner according to whatever prominence we feel it merits, should not be confused with the Christian idea of God. This would be an idol; not the Creator of the universe.

I would put forward rather, that we should heartily adjust and regulate the pedestal we construct for our own understandings of the God of creation; which maybe is what you meant anyway, and perhaps I’m just quibbling over words. But since fundamentalists so often stand accused of extending the cloak of infallibility to include their own interpretations, it behooves us not to commit the same error.

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Yep, pretty much that … though I do tend to think that omni- is pretty much just high praise and not an exact measurement.

But he says he first spent “many years” as a “liberal Christian”. At least, you seem to be condensing that entire process. If he spent many years as a non-fundamentalist Christian, does it matter if he started out as a fundamentalist? I’m not sure it matters if one starts out as a fundamentalist at all, in fact (more below).

I think it would be wisest to avoid generalizations and simply listen to what people have to say about it. Everyone is going to have their own story, and I’m not convinced that we’ll be able to meaningfully critique them in most cases. Are there any “right” answers in the end?

Excellent observation. Certainty becomes an idol for them, which leads to problems.

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You are probably right about that. I thought his being a liberal Christian was concurrent with his having absorbed fundamentalist understandings in his upbringing. By liberal thinker I thought he meant he was always a critical thinker, which I suppose is possible even if one is saddled from a young age with some difficult presuppositions. It does sound like a contradiction in terms, liberal and fundamentalist.

In general that is the best policy of course. However I do think that certainty is sometimes hard to give up, and most fundamentalists I’ve encountered are not shy to boast about it, as though that should count as a selling point.

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@TGLarkin
Why are you being so black and white? One can be a little bit right and a little bit wrong… Likewise eyewitness accounts are not 100% reliable but we still use them and they are counted for much in a court of law.

After all we know that there are discrepancies even in eye witness accounts. The lack of such discrepancies would suggest collusion with a memorized fabrication. And yes there is something like that too in the gospels suggesting that at least some of the details of at least three gospels were derived from another source. Some call it Q. Still doesn’t mean that three eyewitnesses were not giving their version of events as they remembered them with a little help from some notes.

Not sure who you are addressing here, @mitchellmckain Mitchell.

I’ve read and studied enough of Ehrman to find his scholarship atrocious… and his scholarship is one of my own worst pet peeves. I addressed one core example on another post, I’ll copy it here if interesting. But in short, he is wrong because he is doing his so-called “scholarship” led purely by his philosophical agenda, and seems utterly incapable of dealing with any actual facts insofar as they would interfere with his agenda. I’m copying it here as an example of how, ahem, “ scholarly” Ehrman is in his treatment of inconsistencies between the gospels…

—————

Here I go on my soapbox again, please forgive me… but perhaps this can illustrate my issue, as it is perhaps the worst example I’ve ever seen… and to make matters worse, Ehrman explicitly calls it his “textbook case” of an irreconcilable contradiction. From Bart Ehrman, Jesus, Interrupted …

“It was the Day of Preparation for the Passover; and it was about noon” (John 19: 14). Noon? On the Day of Preparation for the Passover? … How can that be? In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus lived through that day, had his disciples prepare the Passover meal, and ate it with them before being arrested, … But not in John. In John, Jesus dies a day earlier, on the Day of Preparation for the Passover … I do not think this is a difference that can be reconciled. People over the years have tried, of course. Some have pointed out that Mark also indicates that Jesus died on a day that is called “the Day of Preparation” (Mark 15: 42). That is absolutely true—but what these readers fail to notice is that Mark tells us what he means by this phrase: it is the Day of Preparation “for the Sabbath”.

Right. And what Ehrman failed to notice is that 16 verses later, John also tells us what he means by the phrase: “Since it was the day of Preparation, and so that the bodies would not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day).” (John 19:31).

So Mark has Jesus dying on the day of preparation before the Sabbath, and John has Jesus dying on the day of preparation before the sabbath. Nicely done with this “textbook” contradiction.

This not from some neophyte undergrad student with an axe to grind… this in a published book from the James A. Gray Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies. There just isn’t an excuse for this. Much as I’d like to, I simply can’t find a way to be generous: I’m forced to conclude this is either the height of ineptitude, or downright academic dishonesty. But either way, it betrays an unwillingness to see what even the most casual reader should have been able to see, if he was interested whatsoever in what is actually true. It gives me the impression of someone so desperate to find a contradiction at all costs, it blinds them to being able to read even the most obvious parts of the text.

To borrow from C. S. Lewis… “After a man has said that, why need one attend to anything else he says about any book in the world? … The reader who doesn’t see this has simply not learned to read…Through what strange process has this learned [scholar] gone in order to make himself blind to what all men except him see? What evidence have we that he would recognize a [harmonious account] if it were there? … These men ask me to believe they can read between the lines of the old texts; the evidence is their obvious inability to read (in any sense worth discussing) the lines themselves. They claim to see fern-seed and can’t see an elephant ten yards away in broad daylight. ”

So it is significant to me because when someone makes this kind of error. it calls into question, to me, whether or not I can trust anything in their entire approach. I start to feel like I’m not talking to someone who wants to know what is true, but a person with an agenda intent on arriving at a predetermined conclusion.

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The OP… …maybe?

Sometimes I quote someone and it removes the quote because I quoted everything. But that can be confusing when that is the only thing that shows who you are responding to.

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It only does that when you quote the whole post immediately above your own. I too find it an annoying feature. So you just have to be selective and not quote the whole thing.

I agree with you. While an atheist, I read his books and wrote down some of his “inconsistencies”. When I was studying with an elder at my church and starting to come back to God, I took 6 things Ehrman said about Acts and was planning to ask my elder about them. But as I was looking at them, now with an open heart, I was able to work out 3 of them on my own, realizing they weren’t contradictions at all. Another one I later worked out while studying Acts and working out how Galatians fit in. Once I realized there is good evidence that Galatians was written prior to Acts 15, it was very easy to harmonize the two conversion accounts of Paul! But if you have a closed heart, you really won’t make any effort to try. The other two “contradictions”, my elder had good explanations for.

On the Passover issue you mention, one thing to note is that there were two different systems for determining what day to do the Passover.


Once you take that into account, the Passover issue isn’t an issue, in my opinion. Jesus followed the system used by the Sadducees, and John writes from a different perspective. The day of the week that Christ died is the same.

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I am not familiar with Ehrman; but I agree that if a critic (such as Enns in the other thread) criticizes something that should be obvious to anyone who had written at the time, or has a discrepancy in the same note, then the proof should lie with the skeptic to be absolutely sure of their fact. It’s much more likely that the author got it right; and it’s hard to take the critic seriously in the future. I’m glad you posted this.

I should add that in general, I do find Enns to be correct on most things; but this is great to have a counterpoint. I also wasn’t completely sure that he was incorrect on his argument–just that from my limited perspective, it seemed a bit farfetched. He also acknowledged that, apparently