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Saturday, April 7, 2012

Did Jesus Exist: Bart Ehrman Supports The Evidence - Sort Of (Please use this version)

By Brian Nixon
Special to ASSIST News Service

ALBUQUERQUE, NEW MEXICO (ANS) -- OK, I have a deep confession to make. And let me say this statement may get me in trouble with some folk. But here it goes: I like the writings of Bart Ehrman.

Dr. Bart Ehrman

I can hear the “boos and hisses” from some segments in the stands.

But now let me clarify: I only agree with portions of his thought, and disagree, passionately, with many of his conclusions.

So why do I state that I like his writings?

For one, he’s a clear communicator. He is able to take scholarly thought (albeit from a progressive persuasion) and bring them to the masses. If it weren’t for some of his New York best-selling books, many folks wouldn’t have the faintest idea about Biblical scholarship and the formation of the cannon (another name for the Old and New Testaments, meaning “rule of faith”).

Second, reading Mr. Ehrman helps sharpens my own beliefs. True, I scratch my head and want to kick and scream when I read sections of Ehrman, but overall—and this sounds crazy to some—Ehrman (who is a former evangelical Christian, turned agnostic) truly helps me in my belief in the Biblical Jesus.

Did Jesus Exist by Bart D. Ehrman

Case in point: in his newest book, Did Jesus Exist? The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth, Ehrman tackles—head on—the folks that claim Jesus never existed, what Ehrman calls, the Mythicist.

Ehrman’s own views fall somewhere in the lineage of Albert Schweitzer, summarized: Jesus did exist but was nothing more than a Jewish teacher who wrongly felt the end of the world was at hand.

Let’s be clear: for Ehrman, Jesus really did live.

But all the miracles, including the resurrection, are just additions formulated by later followers of Jesus, expanded and manipulated as the story was re-told orally in the first 30 years after the first gospel (possibly Mark) was written down by biased Christians.

Interesting thoughts. But I disagree with his conclusions, and I say this without any smugness: so do many conservative and not-so-conservative scholars, including wonderful first century experts and Biblical scholars such as NT Wright, Ben Witherington, and Daniel Wallace.

What Ehrman has yet to explain (he says in the introduction of Did Jesus Exist that this may be topic of his next book) is how a group of people—who clearly understood that people didn’t rise from the dead—came to such amazing conclusions that Jesus did indeed rise from the dead!

Dr. Daniel Wallace

Put another way: a bomb exploded so drastically in the first century that lives were transformed and changed because of its detonation. The fallout still resonates today.

Take one example: Paul of Tarsus, an educated Jew and Roman citizen.

Paul knew about Christians somewhere between 30-33 AD. To his own admission, as a devout Jew he persecuted Christians. Please note: this is shortly after the death and resurrection of Jesus.

Furthermore, after his own conversion, Paul talked with, interacted with, and at times, debated, some of the folks who personally knew and hung out with Jesus: Peter, James, and John (see Galatians), among the other eyewitnesses he mentions in his writings (See I and II Corinthians).

Here’s the point: Paul (a non-eyewitness to the death and resurrection) talked with and wrote about those who were eyewitnesses. He had opportunity to ask questions, test hypothesis, and push for answers. Again, Paul was no dummy. Paul’s conclusion based upon eyewitness accounts was that Jesus rose from the dead.

And it’s important to note once again: Paul knew people didn’t rise from the dead. He understood that the claims stated by the eyewitness accounts sounded crazy—but lo-and-behold—something happened that he couldn’t explain. The fallout was there: and this was just a year or two after the bomb exploded.

If a highly educated man, able to research and talk with eyewitnesses was so struck—and dumbfounded—by the evidence one to two years after the occurrence of the resurrection, what makes someone—2,000 years removed—state that something extraordinary didn’t happen? And add to this Paul’s own conversion experience (not as a crazy man or a mystic) but as an educated Jew who understood that things like this don’t just happen.

Bart Ehrman—or any other progressive scholar—has yet to give an adequate answer. Some have tried. But have failed to give convincing explanations.

Now back to why we should read Ehrman.

The question posed to me by some of my own students usually goes something like this: how can reading someone you disagree—and opposes orthodox Christian faith—help you in your own Biblical beliefs?
The answer I give is as follows:

One, it helps me sharpen my own understanding of the Bible in that I need to respond—at least in my own head and heart—to the points raised by Ehrman.

Second, reading Ehrman keeps me from a myopic understanding of the Bible and history—usually influenced by my culture, Church, and upbringing, helping me see that other folks come to differing conclusions.

Resurrection of the Son of God by NT Wright

Third, and this is important: it provides the orthodox/evangelical community an opportunity to reason with the opposing claims and conduct scholarly research in the field of Biblical scholarship, demonstrating that orthodox belief is indeed viable and a reasonable worldview. And let me say that this is being done. I draw your attention to folks like Dr. Daniel Wallace and his newest book, Revisiting the Corruption of the New Testament and NT Wright’s, The Resurrection of the Son of God.

So should all Christians read Ehrman? My answer: yes and wait. I’ll take the “wait” first. If you are young in the faith, do yourself a favor: become familiar—firmly rooted—with the tenants of Biblical belief before tackling Ehrman. And more importantly, familiarize yourself with the scholars that present a differing worldview than Ehrman. Talk with your pastor or Church leader before engaging in unchecked scholarly debate.

And now the “yes.” Christians should read Ehrman. If you do your homework you will understand that he is just one voice in the Parthenon of Biblical research, coming to conclusions based upon a particular worldview. And if you’re like me, after all the cards have been place on the table, your faith may come out all the stronger in both the Bible and in the Risen Savior.


Brian Nixon is a writer, musician, minister, and family man. You may contact him at www.briannixon.com

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This story is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views of the ASSIST News Service or ASSIST Ministries.