Review of Bart Ehrman, Jesus, Interrupted

In his latest book, Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (And Why We Don’t Know About Them), Bart Ehrman seeks to introduce a wider audience to important aspects of the New Testament. The contradictions, tensions and diversity of viewpoints in the Bible which Ehrman highlights, and the historical-critical approach he outlines, are common knowledge to Biblical scholars, as well as to anyone who had studied in a mainline seminary in the past half century or so. Yet more often than not, such information seems to fail to filter through to the wider populace. The information Ehrman presents is not at odds with Christian faith, although it is at odds with the claims that some Christians make about the Bible. Yet ironically, those Christians who affirm the Bible’s importance seem to put no greater effort into familiarizing themselves with the details of the Bible’s contents, much less scholarship that might aid in understanding it.

Ehrman recounts in the book how he entered seminary as a conservative Christian, ready to resist the attacks liberal scholars would wage against the Bible. Instead, he discovered that this scholarly way of viewing the Bible in fact made better sense and did more justice to what one actually finds in the Bible (p.6). And so Ehrman, like many other students of the Bible from conservative backgrounds (including myself), found his view of the Bible being challenged by the evidence itself (p.xi).

Because of his experience of conservative Evangelicalism, Ehrman is able to address not only the New Testament and other ancient writings from the same period, but also the strategies some Christians have developed for avoiding the natural implications of the Biblical evidence – for instance, “harmonizing”, which usually involves creating one’s own Gospel out of the four found in the New Testament, combining them so that one ends up with a version that isn’t what any of the canonical Gospels say (pp.7, 69-70).

Through the chapters of his book, Ehrman shows how the view of Jesus evolved with time in early Christianity (pp.73-82, 245-247, 260), showing in the process what is wrong with C. S. Lewis’ famous “trilemma” that Jesus must be either “liar, lunatic or Lord”: it assumes that Jesus made the claim to be divine attributed to him in the Gospel of John and only there among the canonical Gospels. A historian cannot have this confidence, and thus must add a fourth option, namely that this claim attributed to Jesus is a “legend” (pp.141-142). The nature of historical study, and its inability to affirm miracles as probable since they are by definition improbable, is also explained (pp.175-177).

Ehrman includes material that summarizes (and thus overlaps somewhat) with earlier books such as Lost Christianities and Misquoting Jesus. But he also responds to criticisms that have been offered in the meantime, in particular of the latter (see pp.186-189). At times, one is reminded of James Dunn’s classic study, Unity and Diversity in the New Testament.

I highly recommend Ehrman’s book as a readable overview presenting information about the Bible and early Christianity that ought by now to be common knowledge. The reason it is not probably is due largely to the belief that such critical study of the Bible it antithetical to the Christian faith, and that the appropriate Christian stance is to affirm the Bible’s inerrancy rather than allow one’s view of the Bible and other matters to be shaped by the Bible’s actual contents. And thus I find a statement Ehrman makes towards the end of his book to be among his most important: “everyone already picks and chooses what they want to accept in the Bible. The most egregious instances of this can be found among people who claim not to be picking and choosing” (p.281).

  • http://christian4moses.wordpress.com/ christian4moses

    Dear dr. McGrath,I have recently read the book you recommended (Brown’s Introduction to NT Christology) and while I liked what I read, was kind of struck when passages were put side by side. Brown highlighted several passages and compared the Synoptics to each other and indicated a sort of pattern that very much looked like, what he calls, secondary theological modifications. (see my latest blogpost for examples)And to be honest Im not very comfortable with this… Brown (and also Dunn) are able to put this under diversity but at times I must say that there almost arises a different Jesus, especially when comparing the ‘Markan’ Jesus to the one in John’s gospel:S Its not so much the message he preaches, which I think is quite consistent throughout the Synoptics and even John, but more ‘who’ he is, and what Im wondering is, how much diversity is possible for there to be still a unified NT and consequently a clear picture of Jesus? Or.. when does one get to disunity? Is that even possible, or is it assumed from the outset that it must be a unified revelation? Another question that arises is, if we assume that these differences are intentional additions/omissions on the author’s part, indicating theological views, how objective are those accounts and how faithful are they to the Jesus they describe?These questions might be a bit vague and difficult to answer, but your perspective I would appreciate,Blessings,Daniel

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09380681998833566514 Jared

    Does he just focus on the gospels? Or does he have a broader approach?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    Jared, there’s quite a bit about the letters of Paul and other New Testament writings – as well as some discussion of works that were not included.Daniel, I can relate to the feeling of discomfort – I had it too, as did Ehrman, upon encountering the diversity of the New Testament. But it is better to see honestly what is in the New Testament and struggle to make sense of it, than to pretend it isn’t there – as many of us have done for at least some amount of time. As for the differences between Mark and John, they are indeed substantial, and I have some attempt to make sense of the developments in my book John’s Apologetic Christology. For me, the key question is whether the primary aim should be to do justice to the sorts of things that Christians have said about Jesus down the ages, or to get as near to the historical figure of Jesus himself. But on either approach, we’ll inevitably reflect our own time and context, and with thus add to the diversity that is Christianity!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11193756515651022906 Bruce

    Dr McGrath,Thank you for posting your review of Ehrman’s latest book. It is my hope his books will be widely read by those within the evangelical and fundamentalist community. Bible inerrancy and faulty views of Bible inspiration need to be challenged. (especially since these views creep into our social and political discourse)I am a former evangelical pastor of 25 plus years. I grew up in strict Baptist fundamentalism where we not only believed the Bible was perfect, but we also believed that our particular translation was perfect (KJV)Coming to realize that your belief about the Bible is false is tough to deal with.It has caused me many a restless night.But, if we are seekers of truth then we must not fear where truth takes us. Ehrman is hated in Evangelical circles but his message is one that must be heard. Ignorance can be dangerous, especially when that ignorance is embraced by our political and social leaders.I appreciate your blog. I find your thoughts on religion and science extremely helpful. At the age 0f 52 I am trying to fill some holes in my understanding of the natural world (coming from a literalist view on Gen 1-3) and your posts on issues of science are very helpful.Bruce

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12399706958844399216 terri

    What a timely post for me to read.While working through my own posts about hell, I was struck by how much I always liked reading the gospel of John so much better than the others. It wasn’t until I was going through everything that I realized that the gospel of John never mentions hell and is missing most of the judgment parables.No wonder i always feel better after reading John!The realization of the stark differences between John and the Synoptics sent me down several rabbit trails and brought me to several articles about the authorship of the gospel of John.Thinking about secondary authors and who wrote what, and when….it all makes my head spin!I have never read any of Ehrman….but have heard various critiques of him, so I can’t offer any educated review.So….does Ehrman believe that Christ nebver made any claims to divinity? And if so….what is left to Christianity?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14573288295267591244 Will Vaus

    Dear Dr. McGrath,I was attracted to your blog because of your mention of C. S. Lewis. And out the outset I must admit that I have not read Ehrman’s book. However, my comment is more about your comment on Lewis than it is about Ehrman.You refer to C. S. Lewis’s famous “trilemma” that Jesus must be either “liar, lunatic or Lord”. First of all, it should be noted that Lewis did not use these terms.Secondly, you note that Lewis’s argument “assumes that Jesus made the claim to be divine attributed to him in the Gospel of John and only there among the canonical Gospels.” Yes, Lewis does assume this, but not only based upon the Gospel of John. Actually his argument in Mere Christianity for Jesus’ divinity is based upon Jesus’ claim to forgive sins.Thirdly you note that a historian cannot have this confidence, and thus must add a fourth option, namely that this claim attributed to Jesus is a “legend”. Lewis did consider this option, but rejected it, being quite familiar with the literary genre of legend Lewis was quite convinced that the Gospels were not legendary and that decision was based upon a literary reading not any a priori assumption about historicity.For those of your readers who may be interested in this point I deal with Lewis’s approach to Scripture and the apologetic argument from Christ in my book “Mere Theology: A Guide to the Thought of C. S. Lewis”. I have also addressed Lewis’s use of the trilemma argument in a paper delivered at a conference a couple of years ago. It is reprinted here: http://willvaus.com/csl_meets_n__t__wright.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    Will Vaus, thank you for your comment! I certainly did not do full justice to Lewis’ argument, and Ehrman himself is dealing more with its simplest and most widespread formulation, rather than directly with Lewis. Having said that, I think Matthew 9:8 indicates not only that it is possible to understand Jesus’ pronouncement of forgiveness as something other than a claim to divinity, but that at least one early Christian author in fact understood it this way. For Matthew, claiming that “the son of man has authority on Earth to forgive sins” means “God…had given such authority to (the sons of) men”.Terri, I can think of a short answer and a long answer to the question you reach towards the end of your comment. The short answer is that perhaps Christianity will become something more like what it was for the earliest disciples. But a longer answer is necessary, because in fact the realities of early Christianity were fairly complex. Even the Gospel of John does not seem to be claiming what most Christians today understand it to be. The telltale indication is in John 8, in what seems to be the most explicit possible claim of divinity, when Jesus speaks the divine epithet “I am” and there is an attempt to stone him. But in fact, C. K. Barrett noted decades ago that it is “simply intolerable” to understand Jesus to be saying “I am the God of Israel, and as such I do as I am told”! In fact, this is best understood as Jesus claiming to have been given the divine name (cf. John 17:11, as well as the angel Yaoel in the Apocalypse of Abraham, and Moses in Samaritan literature). So if it is important to emphasize that John is different from the Synoptics, it is also important to notice that John is not yet offering the Nicene and Chalcedonian Creeds.I might add that acknowledging all this doesn’t in and of itself answer your question, since the real question is not whether there has been development, but whether there has been helpful and legitimate development, and on what basis if any one can make such evaluations…I’ll stop now, before this stops looking like a comment and starts looking like a post! :)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12399706958844399216 terri

    Well the prologue to John would seem to be the best case for John’s claim that Jesus was divine.Now, if people contend that that’s something added by a later redactor that can’t be used.I guess I’m surprised by this because how do New Testament critics get around the epistles’ claim of Jesus’ divinity? When Paul writes the “fullness of Deity” it seems pretty clear that, at least by Paul’s time, Jesus was portrayed as being divine…..which would make the case for trying to harmonize the various narrations of Jesus’ life.Paul admittedly tries to develop theology on his own, initially. However, after his initial conversion begins interacting with the apostles. Peter refers to him and advises believers to listen to him even if Paul seems “hard to understand”.If things are so far off the rails by the writing of Peter’s and Paul’s epistles, how can anyone know what Jesus “really” claimed to be?I think that’s what I find troubling about this question. It always seems as if the only answer takes shape in the form of disputing authorship, or the specific date of epistles or gospels.I don’t mean to drag out this conversation if it’s too weighty for the post. I am just curious.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14573288295267591244 Will Vaus

    Dr. McGrath,Thank you for your response.Of course, in the very same passage which you cite, in Matthew 9:3, the Pharisees understood Jesus’ claim to forgive sins as a claim to divinity, therefore they concluded that Jesus was blaspheming.Regarding “the Son of Man”, certainly “Son of Man” can refer to any human being. But the phrase, as you know, also has its roots in Daniel 7, where it seems to suggest something more than just an ordinary human being.And the crowd’s response–”they praised God, who had given such authority to men” may or may not reflect the view of the author of Matthew.An important question to be addressed in this regard is: if Jesus was not claiming some sort of divine status when he was tried before the Sanhedrin, then why didn’t he correct the misunderstanding of the high priest and others? They clearly thought he had spoken blasphemy. (See Matthew 26:65; Mark 14:63.)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    Terri, authorship clearly is an issue in this discussion, but I don’t believe it is the only one. If Colossians is not from Paul then the “fullness of the deity” statement may indeed be from closer to the time of John’s Gospel than the time of Paul. But it wasn’t necessarily the case that Christology developed in a linear fashion. Indeed, most date Luke-Acts late, perhaps as late as or later than John, and yet it has one of the “lowest” Christologies in the New Testament. One also ought to ask whether God’s fullness dwelling in Jesus is the same as saying “Jesus is God”, language that seems to be as carefully avoided in the New Testament as it is emphasized by many modern Christians. And so, at the very least, I think this suggests that there are potential (mis)understandings of such language that the NT authors were concerned to avoid, which many contemporary Christians may have in fact embraced.Will Vaus, please do call me James (I consider the blog comment section a place for informal conversation). It is certainly possible that what Matthew presents the crowd as understanding reflects a misunderstanding by the crowd. But other parts of the Gospel of Matthew would likewise suggest that Jesus has an authority that is given to him by God rather than intrinsic to his person – most notably the conclusion of the Gospel.There has been extensive study of the trial narratives and the accusation of blasphemy in that context. There is no evidence of blasphemy in the strict sense defined in later Rabbinic standards (unless “Power” indicates that Jesus pronounced the Tetragrammaton). But just as Rabbi Akiba was supposedly accused of “profaning the Shekinah” after claiming that the two thrones in Daniel were “one for God and one for David” (i.e. the Messiah), I suspect that Jesus (and/or Christians) too might have been accused of blasphemy for claiming that a man rejected by the Jewish authorities and ultimately crucified by the Romans was the Messiah.Once again, let me conclude by emphasizing that things that reflect a later perspective are not necessarily “wrong” – I often see things more clearly with hindsight than beforehand. But the question then becomes how we evaluate developments, later reflections, and attempts to contextualize Christians’ views of Jesus in various historical, cultural and religious contexts.

  • Anonymous

    terri:John’s prologue is most assuredly NOT any kind of best case for the divinity argument. First, the word is explicitly not Jesus or the authors would have said so. We have been conditioned to read it in a way that almost certainly was not intended by the authors. All of the English translations of the Bible before King James used the neutral pronoun “it” in that passage.What’s more, there are clear delineations in John between Jesus and the Father. If you believe the Bible literally, Jesus prays in John, “For you alone are God.” Also, when Jesus is arguing with the Pharisees (Chapter 10, I think) who said he made himself to be God, Jesus pretty much denies it by quoting a passage in the Hebrew Bible that refers to humans as gods. He equates himself to one of the judges, doing God’s will but not divine.John goes further down the road of divinity of the synoptics, but he clearly wasn’t there. I recently re-listened to some of CS Lewis’s “Mere Christianity” and was amazed at how incredibly weak it was. It could only been seen as logical by someone who eschews logic.(For more details, read Anthony Buzzard of the Atlanta Bible College.)I’ve gone through the same evolution as Ehrman and James after studying the Bible as a layperson. I was in a Sunday School class recently with the Sermon on the Mount being read. When Jesus says things like, “God will forgive those who forgive others,” Christians can’t believe that literally because they only believe that God will forgive those who accept Jesus as personal savior. So the teacher was explaning it through the prism of John, because we can’t believe Jesus actually have meant what he said in Matthew. So we have a religion based on not believing the words of the founder.Also, terri, the thing is that we really have little idea how accurately the history and sayings were rendered. Peter and Paul certainly didn’t get along, and most probably Peter’s advice to heed Paul was written by a follower of Paul and does not reflect Peter at all.pf

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12399706958844399216 terri

    pf…I wrote that last night and wasn’t really thinking…I hadn’t forgotten the discussion was about things Jesus claimed about himself, not the general gospel. I was going to correct myself, but it didn’t enter the discussion until now, so I didn’t bother.RE: Jesus and the Pharisees…the only problem I see in that argument stems from the frequent occurrences in which Jesus is purposely vague. He does that often in all of the gospel, I think…correct me if I’m wrong.Think of all the instances when the apostles are scratching their heads trying to figure out what he meant. So saying that he was vague with the Pharisees isn’t necessarily a repudiation of being divine. It seems very “in character” for Jesus to answer those confronting him with these strange statements that could be taken in multiple ways.Also, terri, the thing is that we really have little idea how accurately the history and sayings were rendered. Peter and Paul certainly didn’t get along, and most probably Peter’s advice to heed Paul was written by a follower of Paul and does not reflect Peter at all.The most probably is what gets me here. What is that based on? Why do we think that a follower of Paul would do such a thing? And why in such a brief manner? If one of Paul’s followers was going to do something like that, you would at least think he would add something a little more detailed, instead of what seems like back-handed reference to Paul.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12399706958844399216 terri

    oops…I meant to write “had forgotten” instead of hadn’t forgotten.

  • Anonymous

    terri:You said: “So saying that he was vague with the Pharisees isn’t necessarily a repudiation of being divine. It seems very “in character” for Jesus to answer those confronting him with these strange statements that could be taken in multiple ways.”But why would it be “in character” for Jesus to be vague about who he is? There is absolutely no reason for that, except that it retroactively explains why there is absolutely nothing in the Bible to justify who Christians say he is.There is not a single reference in the Bible to a triune God, not even a hint. Christians get around that by saying that Jesus purposefully hid himself except in cryptic sayings to his disciples, who even then never accepted it. Why would God not want everybody to know exactly who he was, not make people wait centuries after “his” death to figure it out? Why would he pick as his closest disciples people so dense?It doesn’t make sense except that Christians’ create theology by starting with the premise that Jesus is the second person of the Trinity, and explain the facts and the texts backwards. If you read the text and try to understand what it is on its own terms, the natural conclusion is otherwise.Peter and Paul is a long study that I can’t do justice to in a comment on a blog, and in any case am not exactly an authority. But Second Peter carries clues that it was written long after Peter was dead, for example, the reference to Paul’s writings as “scripture,” and the complete reversal in eschatology from First Peter. (From the declarative “the end is near!” to “a day is like a thousand days…” Right, whatever. The end is near, it’s not, what’s the difference?)I think the weight of the evidence is that Paul never got along with the original disciples, particularly Peter and James. Paul’s supporters would have had incentive to make it look as if he had gotten along with the disciples. There are many many books written about this issue. As far as Jesus and the Pharisees, Jesus is mostly vague in book of John, not so much in the synoptics. Is that because the synoptic authors focused on Jesus’ apocalyptic sayings and John focused on the mystic sayings of the same man? The problem is that the Jesus of the synoptics doesn’t even seem like the same person as the one in John.I think it is more likely that the authors put dialogue into Jesus’ mouth depending on who they wanted him to be. pf

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    Just one other point about 2 Peter. The Greek style and vocabulary are not only very different from that of 1 Peter, but are much closer to the language of the later apostolic fathers, and contains words that are not found elsewhere in the New Testament or in the usage of any other Palestinian Jewish author. 2 Peter is probably the clearest instance of pseudepigraphy in the New Testament.

  • Anonymous

    It will test any supposed literalist’s mettle to read Ehrman and emerge still clinging to the notion that all sixty-six books, let alone 31,102 verses, are entirely consistent, never contradictory. But beyond routing the selective, cramped and desiccating rendering of scripture the liberalist would impose on us, Ehrman does even better to bring alive the disagreements that divided Jesus’s followers from the start. There’s nothing new about theological and hermeneutical disputation, it was well under way in Paul’s time, and probably among the disciples even in Jesus’s—perhaps even in Jesus’s own mind. Two of these fundamental disputes stand out in Ehrman’s account. One is the Luke’s and Mark’s differing understandings of the meaning of the crucifixion, to Jesus and hence to us. For Mark, the human Jesus experiences the depths of despair born of utter abandonment and disappointment of all he had hoped for and dreamt of. For Luke, Jesus is serenely confident in the assurance that God has matters well in hand. One can scarcely put a more fundamental question than “what is the meaning of the death of Jesus?” and here, in the space of a decade or two, two very different answers are propounded by the most eminent and reliable of authorities, to whom much is revealed. Passing the gulf between John and the synoptics as to the significance of the miracles, there is also Paul’s and Matthew’s views of the law, Matthew holding that the follower of Jesus is bound by the law, must stay within its confines to be saved, and those confines even more narrow and demanding than those delineated by other Jews of the time, and Paul insistent that in Jesus the law has been transcended, that those who keep it risk damnation, that only participation in the death and resurrection can save us. In the centuries since, perhaps Paul has won out in defining Christian soteriology, but Pelagius, too, could cite scripture to good effect. If one smoothes over these differences, harmonizes them away, one loses the vivacity and flavor of what Paul, Mark, Matthew, and Luke truly said, and removes from consideration the materials of disputation aimed at discovering the truth of the gospel, unsettled then as now. And, as Ehrman has frequent occasion to remark, one fails to take scripture literally, one instead presumes to tear up both the originals and arrogantly put on offer an amalgamation of one’s own devising

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12399706958844399216 terri

    pf,Christians get around that by saying that Jesus purposefully hid himself except in cryptic sayings to his disciples, who even then never accepted it. Why would God not want everybody to know exactly who he was, not make people wait centuries after “his” death to figure it out? Why would he pick as his closest disciples people so dense?Your guess is as good as mine. What you are asking here is a motivational question that can’t really be answered from the text. It’s not me, or other Christians, necessarily trying to get around it; it’s the way the texts present Jesus. We work with what we’ve got.Why did Jesus always teach in parables? Sure they make nice illustrations, but why not come out clearly with the essence of the teaching a la Sermon on the Mount?Jesus says he has a purpose in presenting his teachings in that manner.Why did Jesus heal people and then tell them not to tell anybody? Doesn’t seem to make any sense either, but we find that in the texts in multiple accounts. I went back through the synoptics and while it is true that you won’t find Jesus saying things about himself that he does in John, you do find him making extraordinary claims about himself. He says he is Lord of the Sabbath. He talks about David addressing the Messiah as Lord. He talks about sitting at the right hand of the Father. He talks about being the son of the Blessed One(Mark 14:61-62), causing the Pharisees to say he is blaspheming.He obviously thinks he is something more than a regular man. No prophet can be found speaking of himself that way. So I guess my question is…..if he’s not claiming some sort of divinity, exactly what is he claiming to be?Perhaps I am over-reaching what I actually know. I know just enough to be dangerous in situations like this, not necessarily correct though.I’m not an inerrantist, but I do actually believe in Jesus….so my viewpoint is not without religious fuel. I’m not sure there’s much I can do about that.I think the weight of the evidence is that Paul never got along with the original disciples, particularly Peter and James. Paul’s supporters would have had incentive to make it look as if he had gotten along with the disciples. There are many many books written about this issue.My only comment about that is that most of what we know about Paul, Peter and James, and their various entanglements, comes from the epistles and Acts. So…if we’re going to believe the historicity of those accounts in their descriptions of those relationships, then it seems problematic to later consider them untrustworthy and not representative of what early Christians believed.James…your answer sheds some light on pf’s “most probably”.I hope I’m not annoying both of you with my questions.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    The “Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath” tradition provides a good example of the development of the Jesus tradition in conjunction with its Christology. It originally was closely connected with the statement that “the sabbath was made for humans (the sons of men), not humans (the sons of men) for the sabbath”, and in that context meant that a human is master of the sabbath. But as “the Son of Man” lost its Aramaic context (in which it is the way one says “human being”), it became exclusively a Christological “title”, and so eventually the saying came to mean that Jesus is Lord of the sabbath…

  • Anonymous

    terri:The conclusions to the questions you ask seem obvious to many because that is what they have always been taught. But if you are able to step outside the box of what you have been taught in churches, those answers don’t make a lot of sense. I think Jesus was clear about his teachings when he addressed real people. Such as the Sermon on the Mount, if there ever was such a thing. It’s just not what Christians today would want it to be. He didn’t tell people to believe that he was going to die for their sins, he had an actual message about how people should behave and how God would act in this world.I think your instincts are good, you just need to familiarize yourself with a larger body of literature. This isn’t the best forum for an extended discussion, but if you care to discuss further, feel free to email me at kay5.1842@yahoo.com.

  • James

    Let’s say we want to be guided by, or better, saved by a spiritual Jesus, and not merely strive to emulate a mere historical Jesus. We want to a Jesus reached by faith, not by evidence of a merely empirical sort. Let’s say that Jesus is he who performs miracles. The miracles that might cater to our needs are, I suppose, those portrayed by John, those that are presented as signs of God’s power to intervene in our everyday lives in, so to speak, a saving way. And yet there are other miracles reported as well, those of the synoptics. These miracles seem to fit best into an apocalyptic narrative. That is, they are not signs of the sort rejected in Mark and elsewhere, they are rather exhibitions of the power of God that betoken in the present time of the transformational power of God which is soon to bring his kingdom to earth. At least, I would argue (leaning heavily on Sanders, Fredriksen, Ehrman) this is pretty clearly the truth about how the miracles were understood by Matthew, Mark, and Luke, as well as by Jesus himself. And I suppose none of us would presume to say that a latter-day understanding of our own devising–one we make up–should take precedence over that of the evangelists, let alone of Jesus himself (as best we can read him). So now where are we? There’s the Johannine Jesus and his miracles, which, despite their problems, I suppose we can make fit into our own necessarily post-apocalyptic understanding of the world. But then there are also those pesky Markan miracles, that seem to fit best an apocalyptic view of world, a view hard to sustain these two millennia later. We have then two Jesus’s to choose from–actually, more still, but at least two, the less historical and later of the two unsurprisingly the easier to take up. Rejecting three of the gospels, or at least the parts of them concerning the miracles, seems to be something no believer can easily do. To do so seems arrogant, to say the least. Yet it seems no less arrogant to impose upon the scriptures our own requirements and wrest them into a shape that conforms to our 21st-century sensibilities. If one rejects the Jesus of history, to replace him with THE Jesus of faith, who might this latter Jesus be? And how do we know, if not by reading the four answers, the four historical documents/theological slants, we have–all four of them (weighted, if we are being historical, towards the first three), in their own terms?Of course, ever since the second century few Christians have clung to belief or faith in an apocalyptic Jesus–at least not in the apocalypse he proclaimed. Maybe the best sources of faith are to be found not in the gospels and not in Paul, who were mistaken about the apocalypse at least as to its imminence, but instead in creeds of subsequent times when a belief in heaven and hell after each of our lives had displaced belief in heaven on earth in this life. For 1900 years faith in Jesus has differed greatly from the faith of Jesus. Why then should his faith be ours?There’s an Orthodox Church nearby.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10760942114692738533 Matt

    It’s not about how to dissect or pick and choose as it is to be able to ACCEPT the things which have already been set in stone. The Gospels have been written in different generations from each other, one after the other. To write a book to make Judgement for everyone else to see is nonsense. EVERYTHING that has been prophesied has come to pass. Your work is a mockery of things that have been given by our father in heaven!I’m sorry to disapoint you..

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    Matt, I’d kindly ask you to read the prophecies that are quoted in the second chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, looking them up in their original context and reading the whole chapter of which they are a part.Let me know, having done that, if you still think they were originally predictions of Jesus (something that even many Evangelical scholars would not maintain). Do come back so that we can continue this conversation.

  • Anonymous

    Bruce, I appreciate your candor and sharing your personal struggle in your search for truth. I share many of your experiences. I like what you said “if we are seekers of truth then we must not fear where truth takes us”. I share your view on that. It has been tough for me to face the truth of factual evidence; however, I firmly believe that Jesus of Nazareth would have us know the truth. Facts must inform faith.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17718502319285147465 Tyler Smart

    Hmm… just not convinced that the deity of Jesus is first seen in John. Like an earlier poster said, who can forgive sins but God alone? Also, why would people worship Jesus and he not stop them if he was not God?John 9:38 Then he said, "Lord, I believe!" And he worshiped HimMark 5:6 When he saw Jesus from afar, he ran and worshiped Him.Matthew 15:25 Then she came and worshiped Him, saying, "Lord, help me!"Matthew 2:11 And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.And then there are the trials where Jesus is condemned of blasphemy for claiming to be THE son of God. (I know that is hotly debated, but John can inform us here…Jesus was in the business of making deity claims…)Forgiving sins + worship + the trials I'm just not seeing it as a "later development" as Bart says. And then Bart goes and pulls in mythical documents like Q to support his propositions. Well, thanks for your post!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    Thanks for your comment, Tyler. Let me begin by noting that you end up in John when trying to clinch your case! :)On the other points, the first seems to clearly involve Jesus claiming that a human being (son of man is an Aramaic idiom that means this) can have such authority on earth. In Matthew this interpretation is made explicit: the crowd responds by talking about God having given such authority "to human beings."As for worship, the most relevant passage in the whole Bible is perhaps 1 Chronicles 29, where Solomon sits on the throne of Yahweh and the people worship (i.e. prostrate themselves before) God and the king (one verb, two objects). In the Similitudes of Enoch, the Messiah/Son of Man is bowed to in the same way. There is nothing to indicate that prostration before another always involved recognition of deity, and much evidence to suggest otherwise.I discuss many of these interpretative issues in more detail in my book The Only True God.Thanks again for commenting!

  • Anonymous

    I have spent some time in a seminary but more time in a pew.(Reading scriptures themselves has lead me to a less fundamental and perhaps more evangelical view of the bible). The problem with these issues is that the seeds of what you will believe are in the (pre)conceptions you have before you start. Ehrman already was afraid of what he would inevitably become before he went to Princeton.What is missing is that, along the way Ehrman wasn't getting a disenting view point by point; He is only bathed in an unchallenged view. We don't get multiple perspectives in our churches either.I don't have faith that scholars of ancient literature (biblical and secular) have the grasp on the situation.Miracles for instance. If we believe before hand that miracles can't happen we MUST dismiss the resurrection, healing, virgin birth etc. Whether we approach the documents with faith or criticism we all approach them with epistemological presuppositions and therefore faith.I picture Jesus patiently waiting till everyone had spoken in these conferences and while everyone is hanging on his comment he wraps up by saying "Great, and if there are no further comments, Lets all go feed the poor!"Could the point be whatever point you approach Jesus from is to be changed in the encounter?Dave

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15744491906079199855 This journey to Holiness

    Hello there! You guys are very intellectual…. I merely speak English.:) But about Jesus deity after we experience Him is life changing and also if a seed of a man conceive a child in a woman, that child is human like that man but if the Holy Spirit conceives a child in that woman clearly the son of God is God and the son of man and the Father said that every knee will bow and worship Him. And only God can be worshiped. Simplistic but I guess we just need to drop the arguments sometimes and pray for faith witch very often the cares of life itself make it too hard to believe! May you all be blessed in the name of the Lord Jesus. Dalva

  • Anonymous

    I've just read Professor Erhman's "Jesus Interrupted". I did not learn much from it as I'm quite familiar with the material. Erhman's argumentation does not destroy Christian faith, but it does destroy a fundamentalist approach to Scripture. The book could have gone further: Erhman might have had something to say on the meaninglesness of "sola scriptura" as the "regula fidei" – Erhman does not destroy Christianity but he does show the basic tenet of Protestantism to have been misguided.

  • Pingback: Oakley M Frame

  • Pingback: Nike Air Max 1


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X