When A New Testament Scholar Is Not

During the research and writing of my newest book: “Why Jesus Is God, And Others Are Not,” I read a few of the books by noted New Testament Scholar, Dr. Bart Ehrman. I fully expected that I would be confronted by a massive amount of scholarly evidence to support his views. What I found instead were a mass of conjecture, misrepresentations, and blatant lies. I consider them lies only because a man of his education should know full well that the things he is espousing are not supported by evidence.

In this article, I will take you through a chapter of Dr. Ehrman’s book: “Jesus Interrupted.” I was both shocked and dismayed by the callous disregard of evidence in this book to support any of the statements that are made. I suppose that this is what happens when an atheist achieves a Ph.D. as a New Testament scholar and has joined the ranks of the New York Times Bestsellers list.

People assume that someone with these credentials, knows what they are talking about. What I found instead were error after error in statements of assumption regarding facts in which Dr. Ehman has no capacity to know, nor does he have any evidence to support.

Bear in mind that the best source for reliable information about the New Testament, is the New Testament itself. The text we have in our Bible today has come down through history with the same text that it was written in when the writers first penned these words. The ideas that are circulating amongst Liberal Theologians today is that we don’t know what the writers originally wrote because too much time has gone by and these texts have been copied over and over so many times.

This statement is simply not true. I spent a great deal of time validating for the reader, the reliability of the New Testament in “Why Jesus Is God, And Others Are Not.”  After 43 years of research, writing, and teaching the reliability of the bible, I have found on several occasions, that those who are in opposition to the Bible, often make untrue and unprovable declarations. If you are interested in learning about the evidence in support of the New Testament as reliable transmission of the true events, please see my book.

In this article, I wanted to take you through a chapter of Dr. Ehrman’s book, “Jesus Interrupted,” to demonstrate the many errors he has made.

Chapter Four

Students taking a college-level Bible course for the first time often find it surprising that we don’t know who wrote most of the books of the New Testament. How could that be? Don’t these books all have the authors’ names attached to them? Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, the letters of Paul, 1 and 2 Peter, and 1, 2 and 3 John? How could the wrong names be attached to books of Scripture? Isn’t this the Word of God? If someone wrote a book claiming to be Paul while knowing full well that he wasn’t Paul — isn’t that lying? Can Scripture contain lies?

You will notice a common tactic that Dr. Ehrman uses at the beginning of his chapters to get the readers focused on the conclusions he wants to make, before any evidence is presented.

Students taking a college-level Bible course for the first time often find it surprising that we don’t know who wrote most of the books of the New Testament.

This statement is not true. We know exactly who wrote these books because their names are attached to them today. You will learn that Dr. Ehrman asks his readers to trust him when he says that he knows that the four Gospels were written anonymously. He states that these books circulated for centuries without any name being attributed to them. The documents that Ehrman is referring to are copies, called manuscripts, of the original autographs.

Not having seen these original autographs, because no original autographs exist for any documents of antiquity today, secular, or religious, it is impossible to know for sure whether or not Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, did place their names on their Gospels.

What we do have are the records of the early Christian church, where men like Polycarp, who was a direct descendent of John the Apostle, knew who wrote the true Gospels. By the time that Origen obtained the 27 books that we have in our New Testament today, he had the utmost confidence that these four Gospels bore the true writers names. Origen wrote entire commentaries for the Bible between 230 and 250 A.D. Origen said the following about the Gospel of Matthew:

“Concerning the four Gospels which alone are uncontroverted in the Church of God under heaven, I have learned by tradition that the Gospel according to Matthew, who was at one time a publican and afterwards an Apostle of Jesus Christ, was written first; and that he composed it in the Hebrew tongue and published it for the converts from Judaism. The second written was that according to Mark, who wrote it according to the instruction of Peter, who, in his General Epistle, acknowledged him as a son, saying, The church that is in Babylon, elect together with you, salutes you; and so does Mark my son. [ 1 Peter 5:13 ] And third, was that according to Luke, the Gospel commended by Paul, which he composed for the converts from the Gentiles. Last of all, that according to John.“[1]

Dr. Ehrman thinks that he knows more today about who the true author’s of the four Gospels are, than men like Origen or the early church fathers.

“How could that be? Don’t these books all have the authors’ names attached to them? Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, the letters of Paul, 1 and 2 Peter, and 1, 2 and 3 John? How could the wrong names be attached to books of Scripture? Isn’t this the Word of God? If someone wrote a book claiming to be Paul while knowing full well that he wasn’t Paul — isn’t that lying? Can Scripture contain lies?”

Do you see any evidence to support Dr. Ehrman’s assertions? Remember this because it is a common theme throughout all of his books. Ehrman writes to the reader as one who is having a casual conversation about the New Testament and expects us to trust him because he knows what he is talking about.

In true New Testament scholarship, far more is required than casual conversation, we need actual evidence to support our Theses.

Dr. Ehrman continues. Notice the casual style of writing, which is quite attractive, but also notice the lack of any evidentiary substance.

When I arrived at seminary I was fully armed and ready for the onslaught on my faith by liberal biblical scholars who were going to insist on such crazy ideas. Having been trained in conservative circles, I knew that these views were standard fare at places like Princeton Theological Seminary. But what did they know? Bunch of liberals.

According to him, Dr. Ehrman was once one of us, a true believer in Jesus and the authority of the New Testament. According to him, upon his entrance at seminary, he was fully prepared to defend the true Gospel. This causes the reader to feel a sense of empathy and affinity with Dr. Ehrman. He does this because later he will tell us that after his studies he learned the truth; the Gospels are unreliable and the Gospel writers made up the stories about Jesus.

What came as a shock to me over time was just how little actual evidence there is for the traditional ascriptions of authorship that I had always taken for granted, and how much real evidence there was that many of these ascriptions are wrong. It turned out the liberals actually had something to say and had evidence to back it up; they weren’t simply involved in destructive wishful thinking. There were some books, such as the Gospels, that had been written anonymously, only later to be ascribed to certain authors who probably did not write them (apostles and friends of the apostles). Other books were written by authors who flat out claimed to be someone they weren’t.

What was it that caused a change of mind for Ehrman? His professors told him that there was little to no evidence that the traditional attributions of authorship are wrong. The problem with this statement is that it is not true. The traditional conclusions for who wrote the New Testament have never been ambiguous. Only in the mind of Liberal Theologians was the evidence in question. To a large degree, this begins with a professor who tells his students that the authorship of the New Testament is is doubt. This student believes this and goes on later to teach other students the same errors.

The facts are, we know exactly who wrote these manuscripts and they have never been in doubt. What is the evidence? The New Testament itself. As I said earlier, the authorship and text of the New Testament has come to us with 99.5 percent of the text unaltered over the past 2,000 years. This is a fact, not speculation.

I was struck by reading the commentaries of Origen for the New Testament and how his text from 250 B.C., matched the text of my New Testament today. When critics of the New Testament tell you that there are over 200,000 variants, remember that they are talking about misspelled words, incomplete words, punctuation, or other minor errors; not changed doctrines or events. If one word is misspelled in 4,000 manuscript copies, critics assert that there are 4,000 variants. In reality the same error was made 4,000 times, but the unsuspecting reader thinks that 4,000 errors are in the New Testament.

Out of the 200,000 claimed variants, only 100 words are really in doubt.

All of the names, places, events and descriptions that we have in our New Testament today are precisely the same as the original manuscripts.

Notice that Ehrman speaks of evidence existing to discredit the New Testament authority but he never presents any after his assertions. Read the above paragraph and you will see that the supposed “evidence” Ehrman is presenting is the idea that the four Gospels were written anonymously. We know that this is not true as the names of the writers were never in doubt. When you read the reasons that Ehrman asserts most of his points, it is because this is his professional opinion, not because there is actual evidence to support his ideas.

In reading the commentary by early Christian Apologists, we find that they quote from Matthew, Mark, Luke and John’s Gospels, as early as 90 A.D.

Papias: 70 A.D. to 163 A.D., was a disciple of the Apostle John, and was a Bishop of Hierapolis in Turkey.  Eusebius quotes Papias in his book Ecclesiastical History, in 340 A. D.

“Mark, having become the interpreter of Peter, wrote down accurately everything that he remembered, without however recording in order what was said or done by Christ. For neither did he hear the Lord, nor did he follow him; but afterwards, as I said, (attended) Peter, who adapted his instructions to the needs (of his hearers) but had no design of giving a connected account of the Lord’s oracles. So then Mark made no mistake, while he thus wrote down some things as he remembered them; for he made it his one care not to omit anything that he heard, or to set down any false statement therein.”

Irenaeus130 A.D. to 202 A.D. A disciple of Polycarp, who was a disciple of  John the writer of his own Gospel, the book of Revelation, and the epistles of  1-3 John. In the third book of his five volume discourse, Against Heresies, he writes the following:

“Matthew also issued a written Gospel among the Hebrews in their own dialect, while Peter and Paul were preaching at Rome, and laying the foundations of the church. After their departure, Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, did also hand down to us in writing what had been preached by Peter. Luke also, the companion of Paul, recorded in a book the Gospel preached by him. Afterwards, John, the disciple of the Lord, who had leaned upon his breast, did himself publish a Gospel during his residence at Ephesus in Asia.”

 Irenaeus made a similar comparison to some of my own work where each of the four gospels are comparable to each of the four Cherubim described in Ezekiel and the book of Revelation.

In section 9 of chapter 11, Irenaeus said:

“It is not possible that the Gospels can be either more or fewer in number than they are. For, since there are four zones of the world in which we live, and four principal winds, while the Church is scattered throughout all the world, and the “pillar and ground” of the Church is the Gospel and the spirit of life; it is fitting that she should have four pillars, breathing out immortality on every side, and vivifying men afresh.

From which fact, it is evident that the Word, the Artificer of all, He that sitteth upon the cherubim, and contains all things, He who was manifested to men, has given us the Gospel under four aspects, but bound together by one Spirit. As also David says, when entreating His manifestation, “Thou that sittest between the cherubim, shine forth.”

For the cherubim, too, were four-faced, and their faces were images of the dispensation of the Son of God. For, [as the Scripture] says, “The first living creature was like a lion,” symbolizing His effectual working, His leadership, and royal power; the second [living creature] was like a calf, signifying [His] sacrificial and sacerdotal order; but “the third had, as it were, the face as of a man,”-an evident description of His advent as a human being; “the fourth was like a flying eagle,” pointing out the gift of the Spirit hovering with His wings over the Church.

And therefore the Gospels are in accord with these things, among which Christ Jesus is seated. For that according to John relates His original, effectual, and glorious generation from the Father, thus declaring, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Also, “all things were made by Him, and without Him was nothing made.” For this reason, too, is that Gospel full of all confidence, for such is His person.

But that according to Luke, taking up [His] priestly character, commenced with Zacharias the priest offering sacrifice to God. For now was made ready the fatted calf, about to be immolated for the finding again of the younger son. Matthew, again, relates His generation as a man, saying, “The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham; ” and also, “The birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise.” This, then, is the Gospel of His humanity; for which reason it is, too, that [the character of] a humble and meek man is kept up through the whole Gospel.

Mark, on the other hand, commences with [a reference to] the prophetical spirit coming down from on high to men, saying, “The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, as it is written in Esaias the prophet,”-pointing to the winged aspect of the Gospel; and on this account he made a compendious and cursory narrative, for such is the prophetical character. And the Word of God Himself used to converse with the ante-Mosaic patriarchs, in accordance with His divinity and glory; but for those under the law he instituted a sacerdotal and liturgical service. Afterwards, being made man for us, He sent the gift of the celestial Spirit over all the earth, protecting us with His wings. Such, then, as was the course followed by the Son of God, so was also the form of the living creatures; and such as was the form of the living creatures, so was also the character of the Gospel.

For the living creatures are quadriform, and the Gospel is quadriform, as is also the course followed by the Lord. For this reason were four principal covenants given to the human race: one, prior to the deluge, under Adam; the second, that after the deluge, under Noah; the third, the giving of the law, under Moses; the fourth, that which renovates man, and sums up all things in itself by means of the Gospel, raising and bearing men upon its wings into heavenly kingdom.”

Clement of Alexandria: 150AD to 215AD, and was a disciple of Justus, who was a disciple of Mark, who was a disciple of Peter. He wrote about the gospels as quoted by Eusebius in his book, Ecclesiastical History 340 A.D.

As Peter had preached the Word publicly at Rome, and declared the Gospel by the Spirit, many who were present requested that Mark, who had followed him for a long time and remembered his sayings, should write them out.  And having composed the Gospel he gave it to those who had requested it.  When Peter learned of this, he neither directly forbade nor encouraged it.  But, last of all, John, perceiving that the external facts had been made plain in the Gospel, being urged by his friends, and inspired by the Spirit, composed a spiritual Gospel.

If Bart Ehrman is correct, the names of the four Gospels were not known for several centuries after they were written, why then, do we see all four called by name in the very early writings of the Christian Church? The answer is obvious, Ehrman is wrong. The four Gospels were not written anonymously.

For the sake of conversation, let us imagine that the four Gospels were written without the names of the authors attached. Exactly how would this change the reliability of the text?

In fact, anonymity would support their authenticity. People today always add their names to work they complete because they want to be known and recognized. If it turned out that the four writers of the Gospels wrote their texts without placing their names upon their work, this would only tell us that they were deeply humble men who wanted people to notice Jesus and not them.

If these were forgeries, we would find the names attached because anyone seeking to deceive the world into believing that these were true, when they were not, would place someone’s name on them to remove any doubt about their authenticity.

Before Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were placed into the canon of scripture, there were  26 other false gospels that were under consideration. All of these false gospels had authors names attached to them. These counterfeit gospels were disqualified because they were know forgeries and were not true accounts for what was known as true accounts, described by the Apostle John, Polycarp, and others who had firsthand knowledge.[2]

Dr. Ehrman continues in his assessment of the Gospels:

Who Wrote The Gospels?

Though it is evidently not the sort of thing pastors normally tell their congregations, for over a century there has been a broad consensus among scholars that many of the books of the New Testament were not written by the people whose names are attached to them. So if that is the case, who did write them?

Does “broad consensus” satisfy the requirements for evidence? If scholars have such a consensus, why not present the men and women to us who hold these views. The reason we are not permitted to know their names is because these are individuals who are on the Liberal fringe of New Testament scholarship. Many are atheists or agnostics who do not even believe that God exists. Of course they are going to be highly critical of anything having to do with authenticating the narratives of Jesus. These “scholars” that Dr. Ehrman speaks of are less than ten percent of all New Testament scholars. The other 90 percent hold the time tested tradition of New Testament authenticity and reliability that has existed for the past 2,000 years.

“Preliminary Observations: The Gospels as Eyewitness Accounts”

“As we have just seen, the Gospels are filled with discrepancies large and small. Why are there so many differences among the four Gospels? These books are called Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John because they were traditionally thought to have been written by Matthew, a disciple who was a tax collector; John, the “Beloved Disciple” mentioned in the Fourth Gospel; Mark, the secretary of the disciple Peter; and Luke, the traveling companion of Paul. These traditions can be traced back to about a century after the books were written.”

Dr. Ehrman refers to evidence that he claims we have already been presented with, which is not true. All that he has offered us so far is his opinion that there is a “broad consensus amongst many scholars.” What are the “discrepancies” that Dr. Ehrman is assering here? We don’t know, he doesn’t tell us, nor does he present any evidence to support that whatever discrepancies he is describing, are in fact erroneous.

I have read the entire list of the claimed discrepancies that are asserted and they are not what Dr. Ehrman has led the reader to believe. All of these claimed discrepancies are due to the fact that these “scholars” who assert these problems, don’t really understand the text they are reading. When I read through a few of these claimed discrepancies, I was shocked that a genuine New Testament Scholar did not know that these were not problems.

For example:

In examining over 100 of the most commonly objected verses of the Bible, we find the following:

  • 25 of the supposed contradictions are simply due to a misunderstanding of the historical text of the Bible.
  • 15 of the claimed contradictions are due to the text being misread.
  • 13 occasions in which a contradiction is imagined, there was a misuse of the original Hebrew language.
  • 13 of the contradictions claimed by the adversary are not contradictions at all.
  • 12 of the claimed contradictions are due to the reader not understanding the intent of the verse to which they were reading.
  • 9 of the imagined contradictions were due to an error in the copying of the text.
  • 6 of the contradictions that are claimed are because the reader did not have a complete awareness of the ancient history of Israel and the nations mentioned by the Bible.
  • 4 occasions of claimed contradictions were due to a misuse of the Greek language.
  • 4 times where a contradiction was imagined, the entire context of the verse was not read and taken into consideration.
  • 3 of the supposed contradictions are due to a literalist interpretation rather than the contextual interpretation that the verse demands.
  • 3 of the misunderstandings were by the false conclusions of the hostile evaluation and bias of the commentator.
  • 1 of the claimed contradictions was due to confusion between one event and another.
  • 1 of the contradictions that was claimed was due to the usage of an unreliable translation of the Bible.

From this short analysis of just 100 of the supposed contradictions of the Bible, it is clear that because those who make these claims of contradiction have a pre-bias to make the scriptures appear to be contradictory. This is easily accomplished when incorrect methods of interpretation are used. Those who often make these claims of contradictions or inconsistencies in the Biblical narrative are untrained themselves as well as unqualified to make these judgements. Many of those hostile to the English translation of the Bible have very little or no training in the original Hebrew and Greek scriptures and make their observations by opinion rather than scholarly diligence.

For example, the controversy over the Roman Centurion who requested that Jesus heal his servant.

Luke’s account of this event appears to some critics of the Bible, as contradictory to Matthew’s account. Matthew describes the Centurion coming to Jesus personally with a request; Luke speaks of the elders of the Jews being sent on behalf of the Centurion, to ask for help from Jesus.

Luke 7:1-4 After he had finished all his sayings in the hearing of the people, he entered Capernaum. 2 Now a centurion had a servant who was sick and at the point of death, who was highly valued by him. 3 When the centurion heard about Jesus, he sent to him elders of the Jews, asking him to come and heal his servant. 4 And when they came to Jesus, they pleaded with him earnestly, saying, “He is worthy to have you do this for him…”

Matthew 8:5-6 Now when Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to Him, pleading with Him, saying, “Lord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed, dreadfully tormented.”

What we observe here is not a contradiction but a common writing method used by Matthew to abbreviate certain events. Matthew simply reports what the Centurion said to Jesus through his friends in the Jewish authority.

In every case, we find that the claimed discrepancies are only in the mind of the critic, not in the reality of the Biblical text. Liberal atheist scholars like Dr. Ehrman create these false scenarios to further their criticism of the four Gospels, on false assumptions and clear lack of knowledge in what they are reading.

Dr. Ehrman continues in his criticism of the New Testament:

But if Matthew and John were both written by earthly disciples of Jesus, why are they so very different, on all sorts of levels? Why do they contain so many contradictions? Why do they have such fundamentally different views of who Jesus was? In Matthew, Jesus comes into being when he is conceived, or born, of a virgin; in John, Jesus is the incarnate Word of God who was with God in the beginning and through whom the universe was made. In Matthew, there is not a word about Jesus being God; in John, that’s precisely who he is. In Matthew, Jesus teaches about the coming kingdom of God and almost never about himself (and never that he is divine); in John, Jesus teaches almost exclusively about himself, especially his divinity. In Matthew, Jesus refuses to perform miracles in order to prove his identity; in John, that is practically the only reason he does miracles.

At this point I had to stop an push my chair away from the desk for a moment. Like you and many thousands of others, I assumed that a man with a Ph.D. in New Testament criticism, would be more skilled than what I see here.

Dr. Ehrman actually expects all four gospels to agree with each other in every point of their testimony about Jesus. If Dr. Ehrman was trained properly he would know that these differences in testimony are evidence of genuine accounts, not reason to believe fraud.

Critical pundits claim that this difference between Luke and Matthew’s accounts are reasons to invalidate the narrative of Jesus as untrue. The logic that is used in this examination is that if the four Gospels were really true, the stories would agree.

When I read commentary like this, I understand that these conclusions are made by people who are untrained and do not realize what they are saying.

Scholars who study ancient manuscripts understand that the truthfulness of documents from antiquity can be validated by these minor differences in how witnesses recall what has taken place.

When we are evaluating ancient literature to determine whether written text is truthful or deceptive, there are certain principles that allow us to know if the narrative is true or not.

People who recall events where they were present remember events differently than others who were there and also write in recollection. As long as the primary subjects of the story are consistent, the timing, specific occurrence of events, and structure of the story may be different without removing the truthfulness of the narrative.

In the case of Luke and Matthew and the alleged discrepancy between what each wrote, this difference in text is easily understood by how the Jews during this period of history understood authority.

Matthew describes the Centurion coming to Jesus personally with a request; Luke speaks of the leader of the Jews being sent on behalf of the Centurion, to ask help from Jesus.

There is no contradiction within the narratives of Luke and Matthew regarding the centurion and Jesus that would define them as fraudulent. These accusations of inconsistency are made because the reader does not comprehend the culture and traditions for that period of history.

Variations In Narrative

The idea that the first three synoptic Gospels are not in agreement with each other in what they record is incorrect. Critics expect all three writers to state the precise same things at the exact same places in order to accept that they are inspired by God and reliable. Without realizing what they are demanding, if these three Gospels were exact in their accounts, there would be no doubt that they were fabricated and not actual narratives.

It is because there are slight variations in each of these individual account that experts are certain these four Gospels are truthful in what they record.

Truthful works of literature always bear differences in their descriptions when they are written by multiple witnesses who are telling the same story. These variations are the fingerprints of truthful observers and indisputable evidence of authenticity.

People often see things differently, and different witnesses remember different parts of the same events. The four Gospels that are included in our New Testament were written by men. As such, each saw and heard some of the same things that others wrote but more important, they saw and heard things that the other writers did not record themselves.

If you and I and two other persons are present when certain events take place, we will all write our own story based on our own unique recollection.

In literature that is found to be fraudulent, there are frequent occurrences when every story is engineered to match what others have said. The reason? It is human nature when trying to perpetrate a lie, that people make certain their stories match. When experts see a total agreement in every fact, they are immediately suspicious of deceitful activity.

In the case of the four Gospel writers of the New Testament, there is just enough similarity to prove that they all are describing the same persons, period of time, and important events. There is also just enough difference between the accounts where one writer includes details that others did not, to lend credibility to these events.

By this time, you have begun to see that Dr. Ehrman is not expert in the New Testament. He is a mercenary for hire who opposes the New Testament and Jesus Christ for fame and fortune, not because they are unreliable.

Excerpted from Jesus, Interrupted by Bart D. Ehrman. HarperCollins Publishers.

[1] Origen. The Complete Works of Origen (8 Books): Cross-Linked to the Bible (Kindle Locations 18653-18659). Amazon.com. Kindle Edition.
[2]  Kellum, L. Scott; Köstenberger, Andreas J.; Quarles, Charles L (2009-08-01). The Cradle, the Cross, and the Crown (Kindle Locations .739-742 B&H Publishing. Kindle Edition.


Categories: Abhorrent teaching about Jesus, Anonymity of the Four Gospels, Bart Ehrman, Robert Clifton Robinson, Why Jesus Is God And Others Are Not

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