I just finished reading Dr. Bart Ehrman’s newest book, Jesus Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (And Why We Don’t Know About Them). This is an extremely powerful and well written book. Anyone who has an interest in the Bible or Christianity needs to read this book, especially those who come from the Biblical Inerrancy camp. If you can still hold to Biblical Inerrancy after reading it, then you are just going by faith not by facts. Although, I do suspect that the usual conservative rebuttal books from Dallas Theological Seminary and the likes will be hitting the shelves shortly, so those people who want to keep their heads in the sand and read the rebuttals without reading the book will have some comfort.
Dr. Ehrman documents the following facts that have been known by Biblical Scholars for decades or more:
1. An historical-critical examination of the Bible and a horizontal reading of the Gospels (reading what each Gospel records about a particular event) shows that there are both minor and major (irreconcilable) differences in the Biblical stories from the birth of Jesus to his death on the cross. There are also historical difficulties.
2. The Gospels are not eyewitness accounts but rather are based on oral traditions floating around at the time. They were written decades after the events they describe and they weren’t written by disinterested parties wanting to maintain historical accuracy. It may surprise some to know that we don’t even know who these authors were and there were other Gospels written that never made it into the Bible we now know.
3. Each of the Gospels has a distinctive view of Jesus, why He died, when He became the “Son of God” (this isn’t a divine reference), how one is saved, the purpose of the law (especially when Paul is thrown into the mix), etc. Only John, the latest Gospel, has the view that Jesus was divine. Again, this might come as a surprise to many people who read these scriptures and just assume they are saying the same things or just gloss over the differences.
4. When Paul’s own Epistles are compared with the Book of Acts, it is clear that there are differences between the two which means that Acts cannot be used as a strictly reliable historical document.
5. We don’t know who wrote most of the Epistles and only about 7 can be clearly attributed to Paul.
6. Jesus was an Apocalyptic prophet, meaning that he thought that the end of the world was imminent and that one needed to repent and turn to God before judgment was executed. What happened to this message? “When the end does not come, people who want to remain faithful to the original vision of Jesus and his disciples have to grapple seriously with the fact that an essential element of that vision appears to have been wrong. Of course the faithful would not claim that Jesus was wrong. More likely, he was misunderstood. And so there begins a long
and significant process of reinterpretation, in which the original message comes to be transformed into a less tactile, less tangible, less easily disconfirmed view. Specifically, the teaching of a future resurrection of the body, in which the righteous will be rewarded and
the wicked punished here on earth, gets transmuted into a message of heaven and hell, where judgment comes not at the end of the age but at the end of one’s life. Your soul goes to one place or the other.” (Kindle Edition: 4099-4105)
7. Surprisingly for many people, Dr. Ehrman states: “There were lots of early Christian groups. They all claimed to be right. They all had books to back up their claims, books allegedly
written by the apostles and therefore representing the views of Jesus and his first disciples. The group that won out did not represent the teachings of Jesus or of his apostles. For example, none of the apostles claimed that Jesus was “fully God and fully man,” or that he
was “begotten not made, of one substance with the Father,” as the fourth-century Nicene Creed maintained. The victorious group called itself orthodox. But it was not the original form of Christianity, and it won its victory only after many hard-fought battles.” (Kindle Edition: 3341-47).
8. In spite of what some evangelicals teach and preach, the resurrection as well as the Gospel miracles are NOT subject to historical analysis and this isn’t because of any anti-Christian or anti-Miracle bias. It is because a miracle, by definition, is a highly improbable event or it wouldn’t be a miracle! So any explanation, ANY explanation at all, is more plausible than a miracle. It’s not to say that a miracle didn’t occur, just that historically speaking (as well as scientifically), any explanation is more probable than a miracle. As Dr. Ehrman says: “The resurrection is not least likely because of any anti-Christian bias. It is the least likely because people do not come back to life, never to die again, after they are well and truly dead. But what if Jesus did? If he did, it’s a miracle, and it’s beyond historical demonstration.” (Kindle Edition: 2782-84)
9. The doctrines and theology of Christianity changed over time to morph into something that would have been unrecognizable to Jesus. What Jesus said became less and less important than defining who he was and what he said was seen through the glasses of this definition. What Jesus taught is vastly different from what we call Christianity: “Christianity, as has long been recognized by critical historians, is the religion about Jesus, not the religion of Jesus.” (Kindle Edition: 4128-29) These are not minor doctrines but doctrines the Church considers core such as the divinity of Christ, the Trinity, the suffering Messiah and even the Christian concept of heaven and hell!
I haven’t given any examples to support the above statements because I want you to actually read and engage the book yourself. Dr. Ehrman’s thesis is “that not only is the Bible a very human book, but that Christianity as it has developed and come down to us today is a
very human religion” (Kindle Edition 3503-4). However, his personal view “is that a historical-critical approach to the Bible does not necessarily lead to agnosticism or atheism. It can in fact lead to a more intelligent and thoughtful faith—certainly more intelligent and thoughtful than an approach to the Bible that overlooks all of the problems that historical critics have discovered over the years.” (Kindle Edition: 4200-4203) He is very insistent on this point and lets the reader know that there are many professors and others with these views who claim to be a Christian and worship Jesus as divine. While this is undoubtedly true, I have to ask why?
If you know the Gospels were not eyewitness accounts, don’t accurately portray the historic facts, that the message Jesus preached is far and removed from the message preached today, that he wasn’t seen as divine until decades after his death, that the “orthodoxy” version won out over numerous other views of Jesus, that even the Canon of scripture was disputed, that many of the most precious doctrines of scripture were simply invented in order to explain difficulties (for example how can Jesus be fully man and fully God when there is only one God), and that even now there are still major disputes over major doctrines of the Church. If you know all this how can you still believe? What is so compelling that you feel you must use the label Christian? What is it about this label that people want to hang on to in spite of what they actually believe? Why knowingly worship a man? Why partake in rituals that have few roots in the original brands of Christianity? There can be no doubt that Jesus said some wonderful things but so have philosophers, Kings, poets and authors throughout the ages and no one worships them. What is so compelling about the Christian label?
Before Ehrman became an agnostic he said that Christianity “resonated” with him and comforted him. This may be the case with many people but what would you think if we talked this way about another god? What if someone said:
I know how lightning is formed but I prefer to worship Zeus and look at lightning as an attribute of his godhood because it resonates with me. It comforts me that it isn’t random but controlled by the Almighty Zeus.
Does this make any sense to a modern person? I once heard a person describe them self as a secular humanist Christian? Huh? Isn’t this a conflict in terms? Why then insist on the label “Christian”? Why does one want the label of Christian when the facts are so much different than the original Christianity or Christianities? I really don’t have an answer. I suppose this has something to do with faith, how we were raised, where we were raised, and how we can compartmentalize what we believe. As Dr. Ehrman says: “Faith is not a matter of smarts.” So true, so true.
Dr. Bart Ehrman was a strong evangelical Christian, attending both Moody Bible Institute and Wheaton College. His strong fundamental, evangelical, inerrant views of scripture gave way in the light of the evidence presented in his Seminary studies. As he says, “…it became clear to me over a long period of time that my former views of the Bible as the inerrant revelation from God were flat-out wrong. My choice was either to hold on to views that I had come to realize were in error or to follow where I believed the truth was leading me. In the end, it was no choice. If something was true, it was true; if not, not.” (Kindle Edition: 68-71) However, he is equally clear that his new view of scripture did NOT destroy his faith. He continued believing but became an agnostic only after considering the problem of evil, the subject of another one of his books (God’s Problem).