Craig Evans on “Fundamentalist Arguments Against Fundamentalism”

Over at, Craig Evans writes on Fundamentalist Arguments Against Fundamentalism. No surprises here at to who he has in mind!

Bart Ehrman is arguing like a fundamentalist. It is an all-or-nothing approach. If the Bible is truly inspired (and therefore trustworthy), it must be free from discrepancies. But this is not how most seasoned scholars think, including evangelicals. Nor was it the way early Christians thought.

"Yes, it concerned me too when I first began reading bios of Calvin.But Luther and ..."

John Calvin and Refugees in Geneva
"You're desperate, and spinning out of control, Wee One."

Ah, No, Moving the US Embassy ..."
"This one thing is pretty simple. I'll type is slowly so even an unintelligent atheist ..."

Ah, No, Moving the US Embassy ..."
"Extreme believe in superstition is always bad. As an Atheist I could care less if ..."

Ah, No, Moving the US Embassy ..."

Browse Our Archives

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Dr. Bird and Evans, Calling someone like Ehrman a fundamentalist only demonstrates the lengths you both go through to convince yourselves that your views lay right in the middle of the spectrum of truth with “extremists” on either side, which is saying nothing more than what everyone already imagines concerning the status of their own beliefs, i.e., that they are entirely reasonable and true, and everyone else is nuts. But these arguments as to what Paul or the Gospel authors “really said about Jesus” does not make Jesus God any more than all the boasts of Paul who never met the historical Jesus, or all the boasts of the Gospel writers, because even the earliest Gospel is not historical reportage so much as a ‘Gospel tract” to try and sell Jesus, because you can see the author specially scripting the Jesus story in order to try and gain adherents. Let me supply a few brief examples…

    The narrator of the earliest Gospel wrote his tale from the point of view of an omniscient narrator, i.e., someone who “knows” what Jesus and others were thinking throughout the story, knows where Jesus went and what happened to him even when Jesus was all alone, for instance during the “temptation” in which the Markan narrator tells us, ‘The Spirit sent him [Jesus] out into the wilderness, and he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.’

    The Markan narrator also tells us what Jesus prayed and did when the disciples were all fast asleep, i.e., ‘He [Jesus] said to them. “Stay here and keep watch.” Going a little farther, he fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him. “Abba, Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”He returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Simon,” he said to Peter, “are you asleep? Couldn’t you keep watch for one hour? Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Once more he went away and prayed the same thing. When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. They did not know what to say to him. Returning the third time, he said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Enough!”‘)

    The Markan narrator knows what Jesus alone saw and heard at his baptism (‘As Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “YOU are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased,’ this earliest story of Jesus’ baptism also fits perfectly with the narrator’s depiction of Jesus not revealing his identity to the public. (The narrator of Matthew on the other hand alters this Markan tale, having the voice from heaven seen and heard not only by Jesus, but implies the crowd saw it too, for GMatthew changes “Jesus saw,” and, “YOU are my Son,” to “THIS is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased,” i.e., spoken to the crowd.)

    The Markan narrator knows what was spoken at Jesus’ trial, and even knows what a lone Centurion said when Jesus died, and it just so happens that the tale of Jesus’ baptism neatly frames the tale of what the Centurion said, i.e., in Mark Jesus sees the heavens “torn” open and God announcing him to be “my Son,” while at the end of Mark when Jesus dies, the curtain of the holy of holies is “torn” open (a parallel to the heavens being “torn” open), and another voice, this time the Centurion’s says, “surely this was the Son of God.” Nice framing. But is it providence, storytelling, or rather story “selling” that is going on?

    Also one might consider Gospel trajectories and how they allow one to SEE the story about Jesus growing over time from Gospel to Gospel, which raises the question of how much in the Gospels is history and how much is storytelling:

    Neither can one help but question Matthew’s typical first century “stretching of the meaning” of whatever OT passages he could find to try and make them appear like “prophecies” of Jesus’ first coming. Matthew is eager to “connect the dots” any way that he can in order to “prove” the truth of his beliefs to others, suggesting that not a little bit of creativity and imagination went into the creation of even canonical “Jesus stories.” Matthew even admits that after the resurrection appearance of Jesus in Galilee “some doubted” (whatever that means, since interpretations vary on that passage as well).

    Christians are in love with the stories that Gospel writers told about Jesus, and such writers were seeking converts first and foremost. Who knows if the average devout Christian today would have loved the historical Jesus or been willing to follow such an apocalyptic prophet (which is a valid scholarly point of view in historical Jesus studies). I’m not sure Paul would have loved the historical Jesus either, since I am not sure Paul’s soteriology and views in other matters were the same as that of the historical Jesus. We don’t have any writings by Jesus himself, explaining his views of himself and his mission, nor a single first-hand letter by anyone claiming to have seen or heard the historical Jesus preach or perform miracles. What we have are Gospel trajectories, and even the earliest Gospel appearing to be a work of propaganda. Neither am I suggesting Jesus mythicism, merely that the question of just how much of the Jesus story is history remains a moot question, and that attempts to apologize for biblical discrepancies or shrug them off will never satisfy all of the questions raised by scholarly examinations of the texts themselves.

    It’s not simply the “differences” between the Gospels (and let’s not leave out the differences between OT passages and their creative reinterpretation by Gospel authors) that threatens high Christian ideals of “Biblical authority,” but there’s also the challenging variety of possible interpretations of WHY such differences exist, i.e,. granted Markan priority, and the question of why stories or portions of Mark either appear or do not appear in later Gospels, or appear in altered forms in later Gospel retellings, or have passages inserted into the Markan story by later Gospel authors, along with additional stories concerning the parts of Jesus’ life in which Mark is silent (and the fact that Matthew and Luke differ most from each other in exactly those places where Mark gives them no clue how to proceed since Mark lacks information about Jesus’ birth and his post-resurrection appearances).

    See for instance these podcasts on Gospel comparisons:

    “Which Jesus: Examining Differences in the Gospel Narratives”



    AUDIO: free on itunes Episode 78 (see also Episodes 131 & 132, “Cross-Examining the Four Witnesses Part 1 and Part 2”)

    “Gospel trajectories” (in which you can see how different stories about Jesus grew over time)

  • Patrick

    Bart is a fundamentalist and always has been. He was one as a Christian and when he realized the bible is not made of “Divinely written words untouched by humanity”, he lost his faith because his faith was more based on a concept of what the bible is than a concept of who Jesus Christ is. I heard him explain when he lost his faith and why.

    Now, his complaints about the Gospels often include fundamentalist critiques just like the believer would do as Evans pointed out. Was it 1 angel or 2? Was Jesus going in or leaving Jericho when He healed the man? Things like that.

    Some of Bart’s objections are not fundy in essence, but, his career has made a lot of hay pointing out things like the above. Which are not important to a non fundamentalist just as Evans points out to believing fundies and atheist fundies.

    The Gospels were tailored to sell Jesus? Wow, I never would have imagined disciples of Jesus trying to do that! The question isn’t that, the question is how reasonable is the info they offered up?

    If we take the objections of Trypho, the Talmud and Celsus, they do not seem to attack much of the info except resurrection and virgin birth, they all seem to attack the interpretation of it.

    All agree Jesus did these miraculous things, 2 say it was based on demonic power, just like the Gospels say the Pharisees accused Jesus of. We Christians think Jesus was doing intrinsic good, these guys felt He was doing intrinsic evil.
    Check the ancient opposition we have access to, they never bothered with much of the objections you present. They felt it was normal for Jesus’ people to try and sell Him as they would try to sell Caesar or Bar Kochba back then.