Why is Bart Ehrman wrong?

It’s possible that Dr. Pagels was looking at the overall scope and themes of Revelation, which really don’t, in their entirety, offer a theological message that’s in any way similar to, say, the Gospel of Mark or parts of the Letter of James.

The commentary on Revelation in The New Interpreter’s Bible includes a detailed list of the Old Testament and other texts alluded to in Revelation. There are over 600 allusions to verses from books such as Psalms, Isaiah, Ezekiel, Jeremiah, and Enoch, all of which lend a distinctly revelatory and apocalyptic flavour to Revelation, to be sure, but unfortunately don’t tell us much about how to love your God and how to love your neighbour as yourself.

I tend to agree for the most part with Bart Ehrman’s observations about the inconsistencies in the Gospels and other New Testament texts. There are tons of them. But accepting the inconsistencies and allowing them to lead us to new questions about our relationship with God can be fruitful.

Do you have a source for what she said here (besides the CNN quote)? There a lot of ellipses in the quote on CNN from her and it seems rather surprising that such a comment would be made.

Also, if she did happen to say this, either by mistake or even intentionally, would it mean that her other claims are wrong? I grabbed the book from the local library and it looks to be a well researched and supported book, even if her claims are wrong.

I think the potential discrepancy is not so much found in Mark 15 and John 19 but in the description of the passover meal relative to the crucifixion.I’m grabbing from here which explains what you said but also what Bart said:

The Gospels all agree that Jesus died on a Friday during Passover on the Day of Preparation for the Sabbath (cf. Matthew 27:62, Mark 15:42, Luke 23:54, John 19:42), that he shared a “last supper” with his disciples, and was crucified in the reign of Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judaea (AD 26–36); Caiaphas, high priest in Jerusalem (AD 18–36); and Herod Antipas, tetrarch of Galilee (circa 4 BC–AD 39) (Tacitus, Annals , XV.44; Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews , XVIII.2.2, XVII.8.1; Luke 3:1-2).

Though it goes on:

But there is disagreement as to whether Jesus died before or after this last supper and whether it truly was a Passover meal. In the synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke; so named because they share a similar narrative when “seen together”), Jesus is said to have been crucified and died after the Passover meal on Passover day. In the Gospel of John, he died before the Passover meal on its Day of Preparation.

I don’t really know though and don’t have much of a bone to pick either way. I did find some of the debates betweenCraig Evans and Bart Ehrman rather interesting where they do share agreement that there are discrepancies in the Gospels, but Evans holds that they still are reliable sources of truth while Ehrman would be agnostic on that point.

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I read the book in question and it is indeed well researched and documented. And completely blind to any other possible interpretation of the data besides the one she wants to see. It is polemic and agenda-driven in the extreme.

As for the quote, I am trusting CNN ‘s reporting (if anything is inerrant, then surely that source is.) And the quote isn’t just wrong, it is atrociously wrong. If you found a scientist say that DNA code consists of combinations of 12 different bases, I would grant that this one error does not automatically mean any other claims in a well-researched book about evolution must be wrong… but this is not just a minor error, and thus you’d be very suspicious about this writer’s qualifications or objectivity. And not just Rev 1:5, but the imagery of the slain lamb of god, purchasing sinners with his blood, our robes being washed in his blood, are all through the book. God receiving and cleansing sinners by Christs death is a prominent theme of Revelation. If someone can read, research, and publish a book on Revelation and be able to say what she did, then I think I have good basis to be suspicious she is reading it with a major agenda.

This to me is the best example, since it is literally the fifth verse in the book that refutes it… but there are manifold such egregious published errors by the likes of scholars of the caliber of Ehrman or Enns. These are very, very well accomplished and learned men. And they make very, very egregious errors that are so problematic that I can explain them only by suspecting that their relentless pursuit of a predetermined conclusion has blinded them to the ability to notice basic facts that would interfere with their agenda.

I resonate with the sentiment of Lewis, as he saw this same problem in his day regarding the liberal biblical scholars. “Modern Theology and Biblical Criticism” still remains my all time favorite essay of his.


There are some genuine difficulties. The time of the crucifixion being one of them. Some have proposed various solutions: very rough time estimates on the part of the evangelists, the possibility that Romans used different time (starting at midnight), etc., but none of them seem clear cut and clean solutions. I hate when evangelicals resort to exegetical contortionism to get out of a contradition. Just acknowledge the real existence of the difficulty. But I equally hate when progressives resort to similar exegetical contortionism to establish a contradiction when there are other quite legitimate alternatives. Just acknowledge the real possibility that there’s not an error.

If Ehrman wanted to discuss the question of when Passover fell (as in the page you linked), and the possible interpretation that it was not until later in John, that could be interesting. But his insistance that the phrase “Day of preparation” in John means day to prepare the Passover in direct contradiction to the text is simply an egregious and I think inexcusable error. He simply isn’t reading the text he’s claiming expertise in to make such a wildly inaccurate claim,

Granted, it may be that I’m reading him with a certain lens. The first book of his I read was Forged, and it was simply atrocious. Claiming a contradiction is a matter of interpretation, to some degree. But Forged was just shot through with demonstrable and inexcusable falsehoods for a published book by a PhD from Duke. That book confirmed in my mind I’m not reading someone pursuing of truth, but someone pursuing an agenda who won’t let any annoying facts get in his way.

I’ll get off my soap box after this post, but one last observation(s) I can share of my past study of Ehrman, if interesting for your purposes. Forged was the first and perhaps worst book of his I read, and the pure number of false claims he makes therein was astounding. Not that I suggest he is intentionally lying… he either makes a claim based on something he heard or read, and uncritically repeated it without doing appropriate fact checking… or reports a general trend as an absolute claim without checking to see if there are any counter examples or further fact checking… fact checking that took me very little time with a simple concordance. It underscored to me we are dealing not with someone pursuing unvarnished truth, but one with an agenda that can’t be bothered to see if the actual facts support his theory.

I knew enough from my undergrad days to fact check his claims. Among the errors within one chapter alone of his book Forged, I found…

  • He claimed as evidence against Pauline authorship of 1Tim/Titus that they mention the “overseers and deacons,” a late development he says “that’s not what you find in the historical Paul.” This is false. Philippians (an undisputed Pauline letter) is addressed to the “Overseers and deacons.”

  • He makes the somewhat bizarre claim that authentic Paul believed that “only through the death and resurrection of Jesus can a person be saved,” and claims this is radically different than what is found in the Pastorals. He apparently missed the passage in 1Tim about being saved by the one mediator “who gave himself as a ransom for all men” or Titus about the “…Savior Jesus Christ who gave himself for us to redeem us…”

  • He claims that in Paul’s authentic writings, faith “describes a relationship…trust 'in Christ,’” while in the Pastorals, it “is not about a relationship with Christ, faith now means the body of teaching that makes up the Christian religion. That is, 'the faith.’” This is demonstrably false on both counts. 1Cor, 2Cor, Gal, and Phl all use the phraseology “the faith”. In both 1Tim and 2 Tim we find discussions of having “faith in Christ Jesus.”

  • he claims the real Paul was “‘blameless’ with respect to the 'righteousness of the law’”, but the forger of Ephesians claimed he (along with all mankind) was “carried away by the 'passions of our flesh.’” This is egregiously false. Ehrman seems to have missed Paul’s whole discussion in Romans about how “we were living in the flesh [and] our sinful passions were at work…”

  • He claims that Paul’s language in 1Thes of “we who are alive” means without question that Paul himself “expects to be one of the ones who will still be alive when [the end times] happen.” This is erroneous. Ehrman might have noticed something from Paul’s use of language from reading the next chapter about “whether we are awake or asleep…”

  • He claims “the verb ‘saved’ in Paul’s authentic letters is always used to refer to the future.” this is demonstrably false. He might have read Romans ("in this hope we were saved - past/aorist indicitive) or I Corinthians (“by which you are being saved” - present indicative)

It took me very little time with a concordance to fact check these claims of his. Why couldn’t he have bothered to have done the same before publishing these falsehoods?

So, to answer “why he is wrong?” It seems to this reader that he ends up being wrong so often because he is so blinded by his agenda that he doesn’t see a need to check his own claims for veracity.

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That’s what I was referring to above. The Sadducees and Pharisees had different systems for determining when to eat the Passover meal. If you take that into account, you can see that Jesus ate the meal at the time the Sadducees followed, and John was writing from the perspective of the other system.

You know, it is these little things that give me pause and make me very hesitant to claim a contradiction in any ancient writing. If I claim a contradiction, I’m claiming that I have exhausted all other possibilities, and I know that there is no other obscure fact or nuance in language or the like that would have been obvious to the original writer who would have laughed at us for claiming he made some kind of error.

on this observation I appreciate what you observed there regarding the different days that it may be celebrated. It I also worth observing that the entire 7 day feast, and any one day of it, was often simply referred to as the “Passover” for shorthand. (“Now on the first day of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Where will you have us prepare for you to eat the Passover?”… “Now the Feast of Unleavened Bread drew near, which is called the Passover.”)

Given all this, it is more reasonable to give benefit of the doubt to the original authors and acknowledge the real possibility that any discrepancy may well be located purely in our own faulty perception.

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I’ll have to dig up my notes. The one I best remember is the conversion of Paul in Acts and Galatians - where he went, when he visited Jerusalem, who he saw, etc. If you date Galatians after the events of Acts 15, I don’t know how to harmonize it, but if you date it prior to the events of Acts 15, it’s not that hard, keeping in mind that not everything is recorded in each account.

I’ll see if I can find the others. This might have come from Forged? He was questioning the authorship of Acts, saying that because these accounts were supposedly different, Luke must not have written Acts. I read Forged and another book or two. As I said, I was an atheist at the time. Once I started to believe again, I pretty quickly saw the problems in his arguments.

I do find that hard to believe that such scholars really are that inept that someone without any expertise in the field (i.e. us) can figure out things so incredibly obvious that they are missing. To me, it would be like someone going to a climate scientist and saying ‘you guys kind of forgot to include the sun in your climate models.’

You mentioned that this can go both ways using the phrase exegetical contortionism. I think that’s part of the problem that I have with certain parts of the New Testament where I really do have to creatively come up with the reason that I see discrepancies (like just because the text says there was one angel doesn’t mean there weren’t two! after all it doesn’t say there was “only” one angel). There are a good handful of them which means that I can’t easily read the Bible and figure out what actually happened because that takes parallel reading of the texts and even then it might be impossible to figure out which version is correct or figure out some clever reason that they both can be true at the same time.

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Appreciated, but take a look a how simple it was for me to fact check all sorts of unambiguously erroneous claims from Forged in my other post. These are numerous blatant errors. e.g., He claimed (undisputed) Paul only used the verb “saved” in the future tense; a quick concordance search, and double checking the tenses in Greek, found two counter examples. And plenty more where that came from.

I find it hard to believe myself, but then there it is. And i see this all the time, and I mean unambiguous claims that are unambiguously wrong. I discussed at length elsewhere a similarly false claim by Dr. Enns where he claimed that “akouō” with “phonē” never means “understand”, and a quick word search of those Greek words I found no less than 3 cases where they unambiguously do.

Never underestimate the power of an agenda or desired narrative to blind people to plain facts.

Very insightful, by the way. Realizing this has made me very cautious about claiming anything with much certainty unless warranted. I first came upon this when examining the number of women at the tomb. John only wanted to talk about Mary M, Mark mentions 3 women, Luke mentions 3 “and others.” Just because someone mentions 2 people, there may well have been more he just didn’t tell us about.

Another incident that honed the way I think of this is the feeding of the multitudes. If one gospel only mentioned the feeding of the 4000, and another mentioned feeding of the 5000, this would be ”exhibit A” of a Bible contradiction. And if an evangelical suggested, “Maybe it happened twice,” thy would be ridiculed. But there it is, both occurrences in one gospel, Jesus even referring in one breath to both events.

So how many times did Jesus feed multitudes by miraculous means? The best answer would be to say “at least two.” He may have done it again, even multiple more times, for all we know. But we can know he did it at least twice.

For me, though, the whole endeavor makes me very hesitant to conclude contradictions (and not just in Scripture, but in any ancient writing.) the feeding of the multitudes gives me pause especially. If it weren’t for the fact that both accounts are in one gospel, I myself would totally laugh at someone who suggested, “maybe it happened twice.” That just sounds ridiculous on its face. But there it is. So when someone proposes “maybe it happened twice” as a solution for whether Jesus cleansed the temple at the beginning or end of his ministry, I am a bit more hesitant to ridicule that proposed solution or dismiss it altogether.

These sorts of things fascinate me too (though I haven’t dwelt on or studied them recently). What astounds me more than anything else about the biblical account if we were to insist on treating it all as a faithful verbatim recorder of conversation, is how impossibly inept it makes the disciples look. I don’t put this forward as some sort of “gotcha” contradiction so much as merely humanly incredible when simply taken at face-value as championed by fundamentalist approaches.

The incredibility for me is this: granted that the feeding happened at least twice as you correctly point out, how is it that the disciples, after having witnessed this at least once, are still mystified about what to do with hungry crowds when Jesus is around? If we all accept the Sunday-school flannel-graph version of an astounding knock-down miracle that dazzles everybody present, then it’s going to take a lot more than 3 years (the maximum possible window of separation between the two if we charitably allow that much for two events barely separated by a chapter in Matthew’s gospel) for me to forget such a thing, and the next time a big hungry crowd was assembled I’d be jumping up and down with excitement, yelling “do it again, Jesus, let’s do it again!” No disciple, however hard-headed they no doubt were, would have been hesitant to seize such glory opportunities when they came - in fact they were all about such things to the extent that Jesus was usually chastising them about it.

All this is to say that I long ago became disillusioned, not with the Bible, but with the modern fundamentalist approach to it that generates such unbelievabilities. The problems are indeed all easily resolvable - by jettisoning these modernist approaches that still today prevent so many from “rightly explaining the word of truth.”

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I think scholars that make their living from a given field, always think inside the brackets of their profession. Those brackets may be wide, as in case of secular Bible scholars, or narrow, as in the case of religious scholars, but they will always be there lest the respective scholars lose their jobs (and means to make a decent living).

Bart is Jesus historicist, but I think a good case for Jesus myth can be made. Bart cannot seriously consider mythicism, for it will leave him without his job.

I think a good case can be made for the divinity of not just Jesus, but of his followers too.


Hum. it’s an interesting passage, but I always thought that it fit in with Jesus other passages, which include hyperbole in the extreme to prove his point. That fits into The Sermon on the Mount, too.

I’m curious. What do you mean? That Jesus never existed, or that he was an ordinary man that a myth was made of? Knowing human nature, don’t you think that it’s easier to make a myth out of someone who existed than entirely from nothing?

I think it’s probable that Jesus, the Son of God of the Gospels, never existed physically on this earth. I think Synoptic Gospels come up with a clever explanation for why nobody has heard of Jesus.

First, as soon as Jesus is starting his ministry, he is confused by the people as John the Baptist raised from the dead.

Mark 6:14 King Herod heard about this, for Jesus’ name had become well known. Some were saying, “John the Baptist has been raised from the dead , and that is why miraculous powers are at work in him.”

And even after all his ministry and teachings, if the Synoptic Gospelers are to be believed, the people remain confused.

Matt. 16: 13 When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”14 They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15 “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”
16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

And then Jesus warns his disciples not to tell anyone about him. Here the details become a bit murky.

Mark 8:30 Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about him.

Matt. 16:20 Then he ordered his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.

Luke 9: 21 Jesus strictly warned them not to tell this to anyone. …

So, the people in “Peter Confession” passages think Jesus is anyone other than the historical person, and each time Jesus warns his disciples not to tell the people. Which is, as considered by some, a clever way of explaining why noone in the area heard of this.

I used to think these kinds of things improbable also. I don’t think I ever doubted the disciples not figuring out that Jesus could make food at will… mine was regarding the Israelites constant doubt that Yahweh had the power to make food at will. The were given near constant reminders of a God’s power, and kept rebelling, grumbling, etc. Thomas had seen other great miracles including resurrections, it still doubted the unanimous testimony of the other 10 apostles. Jericho had heard of God’s power in destroying Egypt, but they thought thy might hold out anyway. Moses had seen the sea part and seen manna from heaven, but still doubted God could have gotten meat.

But as I’ve grown, and seen the exact same tendency in my life and that of others, I don’t even blink at an eye at such incidents in Scripture. How many times have I seen God prove himself trustworthy, and yet I doubt his goodness in some form or fashion on a daily basis. “Sure, you came through for me last week. What are you going to do for me today?”


Paul’s letters are a problem for this theory. He was writing within 20 years of Jesus’ death. I don’t think you’ll find any serious historians of antiquity, secular or religious, who question the fact that Jesus was a real person who lived and died in first century Palestine. That won’t stop Bill Maher from agreeing with you, though! haha

The question is whether the gospels contain Jesus’ ipsissima verba (precise words) or ipsissima vox (precise voice). I vote for the latter, broadly defined. You can see this at work in the conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus in John 3. They more than likely would’ve spoken Aramaic to one another, but the dialogue in John’s gospel hinges upon a Greek word, anothen, which can mean “again” or “from above.” Were Jesus and Nicodemus speaking Greek to one another? Possibly, but I trust you see the problem.

On the disciples’ ineptitude, that is a feature, not a bug. In Mark 8 immediately after the feeding of the 4000, Jesus says, “Why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not see or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear?

I highlighted the last bit because it is the key phrase you see in the prophets when the people are so far gone that only parable and symbolic action can get through to them. And what happens next?

They came to Bethsaida, and some people brought a blind man and begged Jesus to touch him. He took the blind man by the hand and led him outside the village. When he had spit on the man’s eyes and put his hands on him, Jesus asked, “Do you see anything?” He looked up and said, “I see people; they look like trees walking around.” Once more Jesus put his hands on the man’s eyes. Then his eyes were opened, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly.

Did Jesus need two tries? No, but that’s probably why Matthew and Luke leave out this incident. As James Edwards says in his commentary on Mark,

His healing exemplifies the situation of the disciples, who move through the same three stages in Mark, from non-understanding (8:17-21) to misunderstanding (8:29-33) to complete understanding (15:39). The first “healing touch” for them will come on the road to Caesara Phillippi (8:27ff) when Peter declares that Jesus is Messiah. The disciples will no longer be blind, but their vision will remain imperfect and blurred, for they do not understand the meaning of Messiahship. Only at the cross and resurrection will they, like the man at Bethsaida, see “everything clearly” (v. 25).

Immediately after the two-stage healing, Mark transitions to Peter’s confession of Jesus as the Christ. This is the climax of the first half of the Gospel. Prior to that, Jesus crisscrosses the Sea of Galilee without apparent purpose, but afterward he is “on the way” to Jerusalem. In the first half of Mark, Jesus teaches the masses in Galilee, but then he focuses on his disciples on the journey to Jerusalem. Prior to Peter’s confession, Jesus forbids people from announcing his identity and is frequently in combat with demon possession. After 9:29, there are no more commands to silence and no further mention of exorcisms. In the first half the disciples fail to understand Jesus; in the latter half they fail to comprehend a suffering Messiah rather than a royal one.

Both halves of the Gospel also conclude with confessions of Christ. The first is Peter’s; the second is the Roman centurion’s (15:39). As Edwards says in his comments, “Both confessions teach that Jesus’ true identity is revealed only through suffering – and that those who are called to follow Jesus must be prepared to participate in his suffering.”