Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Bart Ehrman v. Craig Evans

I was watching this debate between Bart Ehrman and Craig Evans:

If you go to cross-examination section (1:18-1:42), there's an interesting, extended exchange. I disagree with Craig's overall position. I certainly disagree with his position on John. However, Craig also scores a number of valid points against Bart.

But what's most striking is how presuppositional the debate ultimately is. Craig has Bart completely rattled. His approach throws Bart off balance, and Bart never regains his balance. It's a classic illustration of Kuhn's thesis of incommensurable paradigms. Craig is more sophisticated than Bart. His position is far more qualified. Craig's position just isn't vulnerable to the kinds of objections that Bart is used to raising. It doesn't give Bart any openings. 

Bart finds Craig confusing and frustrating because Craig seems to simultaneously agree and disagree with Bart . What Bart fails to grasp is that Craig can agree with some of Bart's characterizations of the phenomena, but disagree with the implications of the characterization. He doesn't think they have the skeptical consequences that Bart imputes to them. 

What's ironic is that both men view themselves as historians. Both men think they are approaching the text as historians. But Craig thinks Bart has hopelessly idealistic and artificial standards for ancient historical sources. 

Bart thinks that to be accurate accounts, the Gospels ought to be like tape recorders and video recorders. Craig rejects that paradigm. 

Moreover, as he points out, even if the Gospels were akin to tape recorders and video recorders, that record would still be inscrutable in some respects without a larger context. You need supplementary information. 

Another difference is they disagree one how much historical information you can extract from the Gospels.

One ambiguity is that Craig says he's opposed to inerrancy (in his opening statement), yet when he distinguishes his position from inerrantists, he does so by denying that historical reliability requires verbatim quotation and strict chronology. Yet inerrantists like Darrell Bock, Craig Blomberg, Robert Stein, and Vern Poythress agree with him in that regard.  

Ehrman's apostasy was nearly inevitable given his preconception of historical accuracy. His "horizontal" reading of the Gospels was always on a collision course with his preconceived notion of historical accuracy. Something had to give. He never questions his paradigm of historical accuracy, so what had to give was his faith in the Gospels. 

In a sense he's right. If the Gospels are true, then we should be able to receive them as is, rather than filtering them through a sieve to see what remains. 

Mind you, Ehrman doesn't approach the Gospels as is. He has his own filter in place–methodological atheism. 

It may sometimes be impossible to harmonize the Gospels as is. But, then, harmonization typically tries to go behind the text to the underlying event. A presupposition of harmonization is that two (or more) accounts don't already mesh as they stand. 

That, however, is only a damaging admission if you have an unrealistic preconception of what historical writing is supposed to do. To begin with, Ehrman fails to make allowance for the difference between one medium and another; the difference between seeing an event and verbalizing an event. What we see, and how we talk about what we saw, are necessarily different. Any verbal description is likely to omit many background details. Many extraneous details. Words aren't images, or vice versa. 

Conversely, the significance of an event may not be self-explanatory. For instance, the crucifixion of Jesus looks pretty much like any other crucifixion. You couldn't tell just by seeing the crucifixion of Jesus that there's anything special about this particular example. A theological interpretation is essential to supply the critical context. 

Ehrman says we need to assess the Gospels, not by the conventions and standards of ancient historiography, but our own. What ultimately matters is what really happened. 

Yet that's simplistic. Sure, what ultimately matters is what really happened. But for one thing, he collapses the distinction between interpretation and truth. You can't even get to the truth if you refuse to interpret historical narratives on their own terms. For you need to ascertain what the narrator meant. And in that respect, you need to identify his operating standards and assumptions. 

Furthermore, you need to make allowance for his aims. When, for example, John says the disciples rowed about 25-30 stadia (Jn 6:19), that's a round number–an approximation. It would be ridiculous to say that's wrong because John didn't use a laser distance measure. 

No comments:

Post a Comment