(image courtesy polyvore.com)
By Spencer D Gear
Could you imagine understanding Bart Ehrman’s theology to the point of agreeing with him or refuting him without reading what led to this kind of statement, ‘In early Christianity, the views of Christ got “higher and higher” with the passing of time, as he became increasingly identified as divine’ (Ehrman 2014a:353)?
However, that’s not what one fellow thought as he started a thread on a Christian forum on the Internet. He asked: Does this sound like a reasonable approach for Christians to deal with opposition?
- Know both sides of an argument, but my library is almost all from Christians. Is that illogical? He didn’t think so because:
- He’s a doubting Thomas who weighs arguments and liberal opposition to Christians comes across as ‘No Duh I could have come up with that one!’ He considers that he could have invented that objection and he doesn’t need the arguments of liberals as he can come up with a good enough response without reading them.
- The arguments most often boil down to supernaturalism vs naturalism and the liberal considers the case closed, but the Christian has lots more evidence to prove and they need lots of technical skills. It is much harder to defend the Bible than to attack it, so why allow the liberals the time of day to defend their view? Why pay money to buy liberal material when they have a ‘home field advantage’ over Christians? The liberal plays reckless offense while the Christian is constantly on the defence.
- I seek conservative scholars who cause some anger for conservatives as they seem to be critically analysing the data but they still try to defend supernaturalism.
- He feels like he’s facing an average 10-year-old who is bashing the supernatural and finding ‘holes’ in the Bible. He considers the real skill is in knowing Greek, Hebrew, context of Scripture, and knowing how to put the pieces together. Then he makes the audacious statement: ‘. I seriously think there’s no skill at all in attacking the Bible!! Bart Ehrman in all honesty sounds like a 10 year old to me, yes he makes good objections but ANY context/language ignorant person can make good objections!’
- So, why should he pay money to read ‘experts’ attack the Bible when the skill is in defending it.
- He asked if he made sense or was he delusional? Should he get more balance into his library?
- Fair and honest conservative scholars properly represent the arguments of skeptics anyway.
Defenders know the enemy
I take a different perspective for these reasons:
1. When Paul was in the midst of the Areopagus (Mars Hill), he had done his research on alternate religions in the area: ‘I perceive that in every way you are very religious … observed the objects of your worship …found also an altar with this inscription “To the unknown God.” What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you…’ (Acts 17:22-23 ESV). He ‘read’ the enemy before he proclaimed the truth.
2. Especially when it comes to Easter and Christmas seasons in Australia, the people who will be called upon by secular media for articles or to comment on these two celebrations will be radical liberals such as John Shelby Spong, the Jesus Seminar fellows, Bart Ehrman, liberal Uniting Church or Anglican clergy/scholars, etc. The evangelicals are not the ones given priority for comment and articles. To be able to respond to these liberals, whether by articles or in letters to the editor, I need to know what the enemy teaches. When Spong was in our capital city of Canberra in 1991, an article about him was published in the Canberra Times by Robert Macklin, ‘The Gospel truth?’ (Aug 4, 1991) which focussed on Spong’s attack on fundamentalism. I was pastor of an evangelical church in the ACT at the time and I asked for a right of reply which the CT published as, ‘The Gospel Distortion: A reply to John Shelby Spong‘ (Aug 11, 1991). I would not have known the details of Spong’s heresy without reading him. I have a few of his books in my library. I have since reviewed his book, A New Christianity for a New World (2001) in Spong’s swan song — at last! Exposure to Spong’s false teaching has led to these further articles: Spong’s deadly Christianity and John Shelby Spong & the Churches of Christ (Victoria, Australia).
I find it always helpful when critiquing a liberal scholar or teacher of a false gospel to quote from his or her material. It affirms our own credibility.
3. I completed a 5-year research project in my PhD dissertation (thesis-only in the British system) which examined the presuppositions of John Dominic Crossan of the Jesus Seminar concerning his views of Jesus’ resurrection. I would not have understood his perspective as comprehensively so that I could assess it unless I read extensively in his material. I discovered that he has a particular leaning to scholars who support his view. Here’s a grab from my thesis:
If historical scholarship is not used to discover absolutes or certitudes, but only by its best reconstruction to arrive at a decision ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’ (Crossan 1995:x), how does a scholar decide between divergent conclusions concerning aspects of the historical Jesus by various scholars? It is important to note Crossan’s perspective regarding those who offer a contrary opinion: In quoting ‘secondary literature, I spend no time citing other scholars to show how wrong they are’. Instead, he only quotes those who ‘represent my intellectual debts’ (Crossan 1991:xxxiv; emphasis in original). Why would he want to preserve his opinion and scholarship and retain it in-house? Is there a possible presuppositional bias coming through?
So Crossan only wants to quote from fellow liberals who represent his ‘intellectual debts’. I do not want to be among evangelicals who only quote each other. There is a substantial amount of good scholarship among evangelicals, but I do not choose to read them only. That would not be good research nor enable me to give a penetrating, but balanced, response.
This person on the Christian forum stated that ‘Bart Ehrman in all honesty sounds like a 10 year old to me’. But that’s not how he sounds to the general populace or the Christian laity when he shows up in the mass media. The media doubters love his kind of objections to the Bible.
That’s why I consider that if I’m going to refute Ehrman, I need to know his material and the arguments he uses so that I can refute them or agree with them in the media and among friends or enemies. When Ehrman is in the media, do you take advantage of the ‘comments’ or ‘letters’ sections to challenge and refute him?
Ehrman’s heresy about Jesus
(photo of Professor Bart D. Ehrman, courtesy Wikipedia)
What does Bart Ehrman believe about the divine Jesus? He stated:
In early Christianity, the views of Christ got “higher and higher” with the passing of time, as he became increasingly identified as divine. Jesus went from being a potential (human) messiah to being the son of God exalted to a divine status at his resurrection; to being a preeminent angelic human being who came to earth incarnate as a man; to being the incarnation of the Word of God who existed before all time and through whom the world was created; to being God himself, equal with God the Father and always existent with him. My own personal beliefs about Jesus moved in precisely the opposite direction. I started out thinking of Jesus as God the Son, equal with the Father, a member of the Trinity; but over time, I began seeing him in “lower and lower” terms, until finally I came to think of him as a human being who was not different in nature from any other human being. The Christians exalted him to the divine realm in their theology, but, in my opinion, he was, and always has been, human.
As an agnostic, I now think of Jesus as a true religious genius with brilliant insights. But he was also very much a man of his time. And his time was an age of full-throated apocalyptic fervor (Ehrman 2014a:353-354).
These are hardly the words of a 10-year-old skeptic who doubts the nature of the God-man Jesus. It is a view of Jesus that needs a full-blown and thoughtful rebuttal. What is happening in the research and thinking of this eminent scholar who is debunking the core of Christianity – the divinity of Jesus? This is not child stuff. This is serious business that requires a full-blown apologetic for a response.
Thankfully, one evangelical lecturer in theology, Dr Michael Bird, at the Anglican Ridley College, Melbourne was prepared to expose Bart Ehrman’s errors in, ‘How God became Jesus: Bart Ehrman gets it wrong, again’ (ABC Religion and Ethics, 16 April 2014).
Mike Bird (courtesy Ridley College)
Bart Ehrman wrote, How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee, Mike Bird and some colleagues wrote a critique with this response, How God Became Jesus: The Real Origin of Belief in Jesus’s Divine Nature. In Bird’s response on ABC’s Religion and Ethics he stated:
Whereas Ehrman likes to point out the ad hoc and adversarial context in which beliefs about Jesus evolved in the course of the first four centuries of the Christian era, Charles Hill demonstrates the remarkable coherence of “orthodox” views of Jesus and their rootedness in the New Testament. Hill shows that what became Christian “dogma” about Jesus was not merely a knee-jerk reaction to various debates going on inside the church.
So despite the fact that Ehrman’s book is genuinely informative in places, my co-authors and I think he gets many things wrong – seriously wrong. Yet there is no doubt that many people will lap up the book because of its putative “insider” perspective. Ehrman describes how he once believed that Jesus was God and later came to have a very human and even low view of Jesus. He gives readers the inside scoop on the historical problems and theological paradoxes that traditionalist Christians hope you never discover.
Although Ehrman claims that he is simply not interested in whether Jesus really is God, preferring to limit himself to the matter of history, I suspect otherwise. Ehrman, implicitly at least, is an evangelist for unbelief, enabling sceptics to keep their disgust with Christianity fresh, while trying to persuade believers that their cherished beliefs about Jesus are a house of historical straw.
For all of his failings, Ehrman has at least done Christians one favour. He has challenged us to ask afresh, “Who is Jesus?” While some will say “legend,” some will say “prophet,” some will say “rabbi.” There will be still others who, like Thomas leaving his doubt behind when he encountered the resurrected Jesus, and could not but exclaim, “My Lord and my God!” (Michael Bird, How God became Jesus, 16 April 2014).
Those who are building defences know the strengths and weaknesses of the enemy who is attacking, the adversary who is on the offensive. They know the enemy. Surely this is what the Bible teaches!
Hosea said it in Hosea 4:6: ‘My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge; because you have rejected knowledge, I reject you from being a priest to me’ (ESV).
Paul, the apostle, warned believers about the opposition and the equipment needed to fight challengers:
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. 12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. 14 Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15 and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. 16 In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; 17 and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, 18 praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints (Eph 6:10-18 ESV).
Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. 2 By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, 3 and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already (1 John 4:1-3 ESV).
There is wisdom in applying this message from the Book of Proverbs: ‘The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice’ (Prov 12:15 ESV).
Crossan, J D 1991. The historical Jesus: The life of a Mediterranean Jewish peasant. New York, NY: HarperSanFrancisco.
Crossan, J D 1995. Who killed Jesus? Exposing the roots of anti-Semitism in the gospel story of the death of Jesus. New York, NY: HarperSanFrancisco.
Ehrman, B D 2015. After the New Testament: A Reader in Early Christianity, rev. New York: Oxford University Press.
Ehrman, J D 2014a. How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee. New York: HarperOne.
Ehrman, B D 2014b. The Text of the New Testament in Contemporary Research: Essays on the Status Quaestionis, 2nd rev ed. Leiden, Netherlands: Brill.
Ehrman, B D 2013. The Bible: A Historical and Literary Introduction. New York: Oxford University Press.
Ehrman, B D 2012a. Did Jesus Exist? The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth. New York: HarperOne.
Ehrman, B D 2012b. Forgery and Counterforgery: The Use of Literary Deceit in Early Christian Polemics. New York: Oxford University Press.
Ehrman, B D 2011a. The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture: The Effect of Early Christological Controversies on the Text of the New Testament. New York: Oxford University Press.
Ehrman, B D 2011b. Forged: Writing in the Name of God—Why the Bible’s Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are. New York: HarperOne.
Ehrman, B D 2009a. Jesus Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (And Why We Don’t Know About Them). New York: HarperOne.
Ehrman, B D 2009b. God’s Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question – Why We Suffer. New York: HarperOne.
Ehrman, B D 2006. Peter, Paul, and Mary Magdalene: The Followers of Jesus in History and Legend. New York: Oxford University Press.
Ehrman, B D 2005a. Lost Christianities : The Battles for Scripture and the Faiths we Never Knew. New York: Oxford University Press.
Ehrman, B D 2005b. Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why. New York: HarperOne.
Ehrman, B D 2003. Lost Scriptures: Books that Did Not Make It into the New Testament. New York: Oxford University Press.
 Some of Bart Ehrman’s publications include Ehrman (2015; 2014a; 2014b; 2013; 2012a; 2012b; 2011a; 2011b; 2009a; 2009b; 2006; 2005; 2003).
 Christian Forums.com, Theology, Christian Apologetics, ‘Do I have a “flawed” library of study material?’ Dirk1540, 30 September 2015. Available at: http://www.christianforums.com/threads/do-i-have-a-flawed-library-of-study-matierial.7910228/ (Accessed 1 October 2015).
 Ibid., OzSpen#6.
Copyright © 2015 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 11 February 2019.