On October 25, 2019, I listened to Peter Williams and Bart Ehrman on a podcast on the “Unbelievable” YouTube channel of Jason Brierley entitled “The Story of Jesus: Are the Gospels Historically Reliable?” I found the podcast interesting, yet noted numerous contradictions within Ehrman’s own assertions. You can access the podcast here: https://youtu.be/ZuZPPGvF_2I
Access my video response here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RkmTXOe9ui0&t=629s
Ehrman made four main claims:
- There are contradictions in the Bible that “simply can’t be reconciled.” (~42:30-40), but “you can reconcile anything.”
He cites the death of Judas as reported in Matthew 27:1-10 where Judas hanged himself and the death of Judas in Acts 1:18 where Judas “somehow” fell headlong and his bowels gushed out. He said that “can’t be reconciled.” Peter Williams pointed out his use of the word “somehow.” He further pointed to the undesigned coincidence in which we’re told in Acts that he fell, which is reconciled by Matthew where he hanged himself. Judas hanged himself and after his body started into rigor mortis, he fell (perhaps over a cliff or he hanged upside down) headlong. Ehrman then said “You can reconcile anything,” which is in complete contradiction to his earlier assertion that the passages “simply can’t be reconciled.”
For more information on the supposed Judas contradiction, click here: https://christian-apologist.com/2019/05/17/did-judas-hang-himself-or-did-he-fall/
- The Synoptic Gospels contain more accurate information about Jesus by virtue of their chronological age relative to the Gospel of John.
Ehrman used this assertion to say that the information in the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) is more accurate about Jesus’ specific words than the Gospel of John. In the Gospel of John, the “I am” statements are more explicit claims of Jesus’ divinity than what is seen in the Synoptics. Peter Williams pointed out the way the examples in the Synoptics in Parables, in Jesus curing a blind man, and in Jesus walking on water and stating “I am” align with John’s Gospel “I am” statements. He further pointed to the way the Gospels gradually reveal the truth of Jesus’ divinity.
To add to this point, in the Book of Daniel (9), we are given the timing of Jesus’ crucifixion and when His divinity would be revealed (c.f., Zechariah 9:9) when He traveled into Jerusalem on a donkey and was celebrated and honored as “Hosanna” in the highest. This occurred on the Monday just prior to His crucifixion.
- In the “earliest” Gospel of Mark, the author never gave an instance when Jesus indicated He is God.
Peter Williams agreed that Jesus didn’t call Himself “God” in the Gospels, but note that He called Himself something even more powerful (Son of Man) given the Jewish context of the time and the references to the Son of Man in the Book of Daniel (7).
Toward the end of Jesus’ ministry, he portended his death several times. “‘We are going up to Jerusalem,’ he said, ‘and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles, who will mock him and spit on him, flog him and kill him. Three days later he will rise.’” (Mark 10: 33-34).
Note that Jesus referred to himself in the third person, as the events he portended were (obviously) about him.
“Then the high priest stood before them and asked Jesus, ‘Are you not going to answer? What is this testimony that these men are bringing against you?’ But Jesus remained silent and gave no answer. Again the high priest asked him, ‘Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?’ ‘I am,’ said Jesus, ‘And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.’ The high priest tore his clothes. ‘Why do we need any more witnesses?’ he asked. ‘You have heard the blasphemy. What do you think?’ They ALL condemned him as worthy of death. Then some began to spit at him; they blindfolded him, struck him with their fists, and said, ‘Prophesy!’ And the guards took him and beat him.” – (Mark 14:60-65).
The significance of this event was two-fold. For one, the Sanhedrin knew that Jesus was directly referring to a prophecy from Daniel about the Messiah (7:13). Secondly, Jesus’ crucifixion was based on a charge of blasphemy. They had no other allegations against him.
Jesus referred to himself as the “Son of Man” fourteen times in the Gospel of Mark (and 81 times in all four Gospels). Sometimes he spoke in the first person and sometimes he spoke in the third person. One needs to read the full passages to determine their meanings.
“‘What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?’ If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.’ And he said to them, ‘Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see that the kingdom of God has come with power.’”
Note that in the very next passage, Jesus took Peter, James and John up a high mountain where they witnessed his transfiguration. “And as they were coming down from the mountain, Jesus gave them orders not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead.” (Mark 9:9).
Referring to himself as “I am” and as the “Son of Man” had significant implications to the Jews of his time. “Jesus’ use of the more potent Son of Man was subtle yet at the same time actually quite direct. As we have discovered, this phrase alone supremely reinforced the claim of deity as does 1 Enoch. Son of Man alone would have been sufficient for the Sanhedrin to declare blasphemy. Yet Jesus continued. He looked Caiaphas and the Council right in the eye and said, in essence, “I am God.” Like a good rabbi Jesus included all elements of the Divine Messianic package in his short answer. He neatly combined the more potent Son of Man phrase (that virtually says it all) with several super-charged rabbinic phrases. By linking Daniel 7 into his reply he includes: the son of clouds; the Shekinah glory; the Word (memra) who created all things; the right hand of the Ancient of Days; at eternal Dominion (Kingdom); glory and kingship; and, all the kingdoms and nations of the world will (pelach) serve-worship him. Jesus could not have been rabbinically clearer.” (Tribelhorn, 2015, p. 116)
Did early followers of Jesus believe he is God?
Jesus is referred to as God in writings by Ignatius (105 A.D.), Clement (150 A.D.), Justin Martyr (160 A.D.), Irenaeus (180 A.D.), Tertullian (200 A.D.), Origen (225 A.D.), Novatian (235 A.D.), Cyprian (250 A.D.), Methodius (290 A.D.) Lactantius (304 A.D.) and Arnobius (305 A.D.) (Tribelhorn, 2015). Note these were all prior to the Council of Nicene, when some skeptics (such as Dan Brown in the DaVinci Code) make a claim that it was first determined Jesus is divine.
- The tangential material in Luke’s accounts (in Luke and Acts) on locations and context may be correct, yet the primary story has suffered from a game of telephone due to the recounting of oral history.
If we were to take Ehrman to task on his claim that the authors only recorded the tangential information accurately while suggesting inaccuracies in the main points in the Gospels and Acts, one would need to see what Ehrman himself has said in the past on these points in his book Misquoting Jesus on page 252 of only the paperback version.
“Bruce Metzger, your mentor in textual criticism to whom this book is dedicated, has said that there is nothing in these variants of Scripture that challenges any essential Christian beliefs (e.g. the bodily resurrection of Jesus or the Trinity). Why do you believe these core tenets of Christian orthodoxy to be in jeopardy based on the scribal errors you discovered in the biblical manuscripts?”
Bart Ehrman’s Answer:
“Bruce Metzger is one of the great scholars of modern times, and I dedicated the book to him because he was both my inspiration for going into textual criticism and the person who trained me in the field. And even though we may disagree on important religious questions—he is a firmly committed Christian and I am not—we are in complete agreement on a number of very important historical and textual questions. If he and I were put in a room and asked to hammer out a consensus statement on what we think the original text of the New Testament probably looked like, there would be very few points of disagreement—maybe one or two dozen places out of many thousands.
The position I argue for in Misquoting Jesus does not actually stand at odds with Prof. Metzger’s position that the essential Christian beliefs are not affected by textual variants in the manuscript tradition of the New Testament. What he means by that (I think) is that even if one or two passages that are used to argue for a belief have different textual reading, there are still other passages that could be used to argue for the same belief. For the most part, I think that’s true.
But I was looking at the question from a different angle. My question is not about traditional Christian beliefs, but about how to interpret passages of the Bible. And my point is that if you change what the words say, then you change what the passage means. Most textual variants (Prof. Metzger and I agree on this) have no bearing at all on what a passage means. But there are other textual variants (we agree on this as well) that are crucial to the meaning of a passage. And the theology of entire books of the New Testament are sometimes affected by the meaning of individual passages.
From my point of view, the stakes are rather high: Does Luke’s Gospel teach a doctrine of atonement (that Christ’s death atones for sins)? Does John’s Gospel teach that Christ is the “unique God” himself? Is the doctrine of the Trinity ever explicitly stated in the New Testament? These and other key theological issues are at stake, depending on which textual variants you think are original and which you think are creations of early scribes who were modifying the text.”
In conclusion, Bart Ehrman has admitted that the passages in the New Testament that “cannot be reconciled” can be reconciled because “you can reconcile anything.” The Synoptic Gospels that Ehrman claims have no indications that Jesus said He is God quite clearly offer dozens of examples through Jesus’ ministry and through His words that He is the “Son of Man.” For this reason, He was considered blasphemous and crucified by the Jewish Sanhedrin. Finally, using Ehrman’s logic, Ehrman’s earlier (and thus “more accurate”) claim that the “essential Christian beliefs” are not affected by his suggestions of a telephone game must be given primacy over his later “evolved” beliefs today.