So during my Twitter discussions I was presented with a name that I had probably heard before but honestly can’t remember ever hearing, Bart Ehrman. So I decided before I would respond to the posts I would do a little looking up online and find out who he was and what he teaches. I was of course told ad nauseum that the majority of scholars believe like him but I was never given any of their names so I’ll just run with this guy.
If you don’t know Bart Ehrman started out a typical devout Evangelical Christian. He has since decided that he was wrong about everything and is now a skeptical agnostic. What I found the most interesting about his positions is that they are not new. When I was discussing with folks on Twitter they seemed to think he was the gold standard of New Testament debunkers (probably not a word) when if fact he’s relatively new to the game. His ideas are the same old ideas put out there centuries ago during the enlightenment and more recently by groups like the Jesus Seminar and John Dominic Crossan.
I’ll not do a full discussion of why I think his positions are unfounded but will present some notes as to why he either ignores what he doesn’t like or just isn’t that careful in his examination (I couldn’t tell you which). In his book How Jesus Became God he states that one reason you can tell that Jesus’ divinity was a late invention is because it only appears in the ending chapters of John (the last gospel written). However that is just not true. In the synoptic gospels there is a story about Jesus telling a crippled man that his sins were forgiven. The bystanders’ response was “Who can forgive sins but God?” Jesus response was telling. He didn’t correct them and say that men can forgive sins or that they were mistaken that only God could forgive sins. He responded by affirming His authority to forgive sins. This story exists in Mark (the earliest of the gospels) so divinity was not only in the other gospels but was in the earliest of them. How did Mr. Ehrman miss this? I won’t speculate. It is there however so his premise is entirely faulty.
Another point often brought up was that the gospels are written well after any eyewitnesses were alive and that no gospel writer claimed to be an eyewitness. There are good reasons to not believe those assertions. First in the 21st chapter of John verse 24 it reads “This is the disciple who is bearing witness about these things, and who has written these things,” which sounds to me like a claim to being an eyewitness. Why do the people who say none of the gospels claim to be eyewitnesses not notice this? I can’t say. Perhaps they don’t want to see it. Perhaps they haven’t actually taken the time to read the gospels. The fact is though that it is there. Secondly there is one very powerful evidence that the gospels, in particular Luke, was written early. I will address this with Luke specifically. Luke clearly is saying he is writing after the events in question. He is making an account of Jesus’ life. In Luke 21 he records Jesus saying the Temple will be destroyed. It is very common in ancient literature (and in the Bible specifically) for the writer, when writing after the fact, to say something like, “X town was destroyed, and is desolate to this day.” If Luke had been written late in the first century, and it’s goal was to convince you Jesus was the Messiah, why wouldn’t something like that be included in his gospel. The simplest answer is that at the time of it’s writing the Temple had not been destroyed. There is also the place in 1 Cor. where Paul quotes Luke. “Do this in remembrance of me” is only in Luke’s gospel and Paul references that. Even those who think the NT isn’t inspired put a early date on 1 Cor (about 55 AD) which would make Luke written before that. If Luke was written around or before 55 AD then he was well within the lifespan of the eyewitnesses.