I’ve decided that I need to expand my review of Bart Ehrman’s new book, Jesus Interrupted. In previous installments, I skipped over chapters 6 & 7.
In these chapters he talks about NT textual criticism, the formation of the NT canon, and the establishment of Christian orthodoxy, viz., the deity of Christ, messiahship of Jesus, as well as heaven and hell. They’re a rehash of stuff he’s already said in books like Misquoting Jesus and Lost Christianities.
I skipped over these chapters for the following reasons:
1.I’ve discussed the canon on many occasions, so I don’t feel the need to repeat myself here. I’d note in passing that Ehrman disregards textual evidence for the early formation of the NT canon (e.g. David Trobisch) as well as intertextual evidence for the NT canon.
2.Misquoting Jesus was subjected to a number of scathing reviews, some of which are available online.
3.There are many fine treatments of Messianic prophecy by scholars like T. D. Alexander, Derek Motyer, O. P. Robertson, and John Sailhamer–not to mention commentaries on specific passage (e.g. Waltke on Micah). Erhman ignores this material and simply regurgitates the standard liberal line.
4. Likewise, there are fine exegetical treatments of the afterlife in Scripture and extrascriptural tradition, viz. Richard Bauckham, The Fate of the Dead, or Christopher Morgan & Robert Peterson, Hell Under Fire.
5.There are a number of books on the market, some scholarly and some popular, which expound the high Christology of the NT and target the conspiratorial views of Ehrman, Dan Brown, and the Jesus Seminar. I don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Ehrman has a habit of ignoring his critics. To take a few examples:
Darrell Bock, The Missing Gospels
Darrell Bock & Dan Wallace, Dethroning Jesus
Robert Bowman et al, Putting Jesus in His Place
Craig Evans, Fabricating Jesus
Gordon Fee, Pauline Christology
Simon Gathercole, The Preexistent Son
Murray Harris, Jesus as God
Larry Hurtado, Lord Jesus Christ
Timothy Jones, Misquoting Truth
Ed Komoszewski et al, Reinventing Jesus
Nicholas Perrin, Lost in Translation?
Now I want to move onto to my major point:
1.Ehrman’s attack on the Christian faith utilizes the fashionable cliché that history is written by the winners. Therefore, you’re only getting one side of the story.
But this line of attack generates a dilemma for Ehrman. On the one hand, his conspiracy theory would only be impressive if the winners destroyed or effectively repressed the incriminating evidence. If the cover-up was successful, then we’d be in no position to know where the truth lies–since any evidence to the contrary was eliminated by the winners.
On the other hand, Ehrman can only prove his conspiracy theory by reconstructing what “really” happened. But his historical reconstruction presupposes that enough evidence survives from the losing side that we can, in fact, evaluate both sides of the argument.
In order to prove his theory, Ehrman must disprove his theory. He can only document his conspiracy theory if documentary evidence attesting his conspiracy theory is available. But, in that event, the winners didn’t succeed in writing the final chapter on early church history.
Since, by his own admission, contemporary Christians are in a position to evaluate both sides of the story, the cover-up failed.
2.At this point, Ehrman’s attack would only remain effective if you think the winners made the wrong call.
i) Ehrman’s attack might carry some weight with Christians (e.g. Catholics, Orthodox) for whom tradition is decisive. Since, however, Protestants are in the habit of sifting tradition, Ehrman’s attack, even if valid against high churchmen, would not be valid against Protestant theology, per se.
ii) Ehrman’s attack might carry some weight with Protestants if he could show that a high Christology is unscriptural, or that Jesus was not the prophesied Messiah, or that heaven and hell are post-biblical developments, or that our canon was wrongly decided.
However, Protestant scholars have defended all of these propositions. Hence, we don’t depend on the “winners” to underwrite our theology.
We can exegete a high Christology from the NT. We can exegete Messianic prophecy from the OT. We can exegete heaven and hell from both Testaments.
As a matter of fact, there are some differences between the Protestant canon, the Catholic canon, the Eastern Orthodox canon, and the Oriental Orthodox canon.
But ecclesiastical tradition is not the only line of evidence for the Protestant canon. We include Jewish evidence, text-critical evidence, and intertextual evidence.
3.Ironically, Ehrman the conspiracy-theorist is identical with Ehrman the conspirator. Ehrman has become the very thing he accuses the “winners” of being. For Ehrman presents the reader with a very one-sided version of the evidence. Ehrman withholds evidence that is damaging to his own position. Ehrman is knee-deep in his own cover-up.