Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Ehrman's just-so story

Anonymous said:

Thanks for commenting on this debate! You answered some questions I had of Ehrman's claims. Do you think you could address what he actually believes about what happened? I personally thought it was a cheap tactic to wait until Craig couldn't speak anymore for Ehrman to state his real views instead of views he didn't believe in.
6/06/2006 11:29 PM

According to Ehrman:


Let me conclude by telling you what I really do think about Jesus’ resurrection. The one thing we know about the Christians after the death of Jesus is that they turned to their scriptures to try and make sense of it. They had believed Jesus was the Messiah, but then he got crucified, and so he couldn’t be the Messiah. No Jew, prior to Christianity, thought that the Messiah was to be crucified. The Messiah was to be a great warrior or a great king or a great judge. He was to be a figure of grandeur and power, not somebody who’s squashed by the enemy like a mosquito. How could Jesus, the Messiah, have been killed as a common criminal? Christians turned to their scriptures to try and understand it, and they found passages that refer to the Righteous One of God’s suffering death. But in these passages, such as Isaiah 53 and Psalm 22 and Psalm 61, the one who is punished or who is killed is also vindicated by God. Christians came to believe their scriptures that Jesus was the Righteous One and that God must have vindicated him. And so Christians came to think of Jesus as one who, even though he had been crucified, came to be exalted to heaven, much as Elijah and Enoch had in the Hebrew scriptures. How can he be Jesus the Messiah though, if he’s been exalted to heaven? Well, Jesus must be coming back soon to establish the kingdom. He wasn’t an earthly Messiah; he’s a spiritual Messiah. That’s why the early Christians thought the end was coming right away in their own lifetime. That’s why Paul taught that Christ was the first fruit of the resurrection. But if Jesus is exalted, he is no longer dead, and so Christians started circulating the story of his resurrection. It wasn’t three days later they started circulating the story; it might have been a year later, maybe two years. Five years later they didn’t know when the stories had started. Nobody could go to the tomb to check; the body had decomposed. Believers who knew he had been raised from the dead started having visions of him. Others told stories about these visions of him, including Paul. Stories of these visions circulated. Some of them were actual visions like Paul, others of them were stories of visions like the five hundred group of people who saw him. On the basis of these stories, narratives were constructed and circulated and eventually we got the Gospels of the New Testament written 30, 40, 50, 60 years later.


Ehrman’s version of events is nothing more than a just-so story. There’s no supporting evidence for his just-so story. And it contradicts all the available evidence.

Sure, the Apostles turned to the OT with new eyes. That’s known as the argument from prophecy. It’s a confirmation rather than a disconfirmation of events.

To say that NT writers expected Jesus to return in their lifetime is at odds with Ehrman’s late dating and pseudonymous characterization of the NT documents.

There is no evidence that believers started to have visions of Christ a year later, or “maybe” two years.

If you have a decomposing body in an undisturbed tomb, then it’s the same body that was laid to rest however long ago. As long as the body is still there, disinterring the body would disprove the Resurrection.

Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that they had visions. Seeing a ghost and believing that someone returned bodily from the grave are two very different things.

There’s no evidence for a fluid, oral tradition which preceded the composition of the gospels. No evidence for a two-stage compositional process: oral followed by literary.

1C Jews were literate. They knew how to read and write. If Paul can write a letter, Luke can write a gospel.

If Paul can write an early letter, Mark can write an early gospel. Orality and textuality coexisted in 1C Palestine.

And even if they were written later, so what?

Men and women write autobiographies. They generally wait until the end of their productive career to write an autobiography.

After all, that’s the point of an autobiography: To sum up your life.

Men and women generally pen an autobiography in their 60s or 70s or beyond.

They are writing about events which occurred decades earlier. But unless they are senile, their long-term memory is generally accurate.

For example, Cyrus Gordon published his memoir when he was in his 90s! Cf. A Scholar’s Odyssey (SBT 2000).

The gospels are biographies rather than autobiographies, but the same principle applies.

One of the paradoxes of constructing an alternative theory of the Resurrection is that a sceptic has to treat the NT as reliable and unreliable at the same time.

In order to construct an alternative theory, the sceptic must deny certain details while affirming other details. He then rearranges the residual.

He can’t construct an alternative without relying to some extent on the very book he denies. He makes selective use of the NT to disprove the NT. The exercise is self-defeating.

Oh, and here’s the final rub.

A sceptic like Ehrman will tell us that we can’t believe a report written 30 or more years after the fact.

Yet the very same sceptic would have us believe a hypothetical reconstruction of the events written 2000 years after the fact!

Indeed, Ehrman’s just-so story flunks his own criteria of authenticity. When he tells us what “really” happened, his version of the events isn’t contemporaneous with the events, and it’s far from disinterested. It also lacks multiple-attestation, being nothing more than his idiosyncratic etiology of Easter Sunday.

Ehrman is not an eyewitness. And he never interviewed an eyewitness. So Ehrman’s just-so story is self-refuting.


  1. hello all Triablogue, first time commenting, thanks for the nice helpful articles, as for Ehrmans view, its exactly what is, a seemingly sincerly insightful but dumb speculation, too bad its kills self, sort of like Mike the Headless Chicken choking itself to death on its food

  2. Thank you for first commenting on this debate, and then going the extra mile and answering my follow up question. Your responses attached to this debate have now made it a very edifying and educational debate! God bless!

  3. I'm a former Christian like Ehrman, but I think I'm less hardened in my skepticism than he is. I'm also familiar enough with these debates to know that a naturalistic account of the life of Jesus requires reading a lot between the lines. It's interesting that the tactic of many a skeptic is to pick and choose what they will admit to be fact and what they won't. Ehrman says that the "one thing" known for certain is that the Christians turned to their scriptures to make sense of (Jesus death). Why is that the "one thing" that is known for certain? Why isn't their lack of understanding of him during his lifetime just as certain, or their disillusionment at his death and lack of belief in his resurrection also known for certain?

    How exactly does one move from believing that Jesus was "vindicated" to believing that he was "exalted" to being "resurrected", even reaching the point of having "visions" of him. The picture Ehrman paints of these early Christians makes them seem as if their heads are in the clouds, incapable of distinguishing fact from fantasy, regularly exchanging fables for truth and lies for fables. How is it, one wonders, that people like Peter, Luke and John were so concerned about eyewitness testimony and distinguishing what they taught from cleverly devised tales while they simultaneously made claims that were nothing but fables to which no one was an eyewitness? And how is it that someone like Luke could be so concerned about presenting an historically accurate account of the life of Jesus but overlook the fact that his resurrection and post-resurrection appearances were totally fabricated. Wouldn't at least some of the disciples have remembered that Jesus did not in fact ever rise from the dead, especially Thomas? Wouldn't some of them have stepped forward to correct the record?

    If Ehrman is correct that Jesus did not rise from the dead, isn't it much more likely that the disciples, being good Jews, would simply conclude that they were wrong about Jesus being the Messiah rather than retain that belief and torture the Old Testament to look for justification for it?

  4. Dave said:

    "If Ehrman is correct that Jesus did not rise from the dead, isn't it much more likely that the disciples, being good Jews, would simply conclude that they were wrong about Jesus being the Messiah rather than retain that belief and torture the Old Testament to look for justification for it?"

    Yes, that's what we see with other Messianic movements in the same region of the world around the same time as Christianity. N.T. Wright, after studying religious movements in Israel around the time of Jesus' death, commented:

    "So far as we know, all the followers of these first-century messianic movements were fanatically committed to the cause. They, if anybody, might be expected to suffer from this blessed twentieth century disease called ‘cognitive dissonance’ when their expectations failed to materialize. But in no case, right across the century before Jesus and the century after him, do we hear of any Jewish group saying that their executed leader had been raised from the dead and he really was the Messiah after all." (cited in Paul Copan and Ronald Tacelli, editors, Jesus' Resurrection: Fact or Figment? [Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2000], p. 183)