Interrupting Ehrman: Critiquing His Latest Polemic Against the Faith

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Excerpt The indefatigible skeptic is at it again...His most recent polemic is entitled: Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (and Why We Don't Know About Them). Easily identified and refuted by committed Christian scholars and apologists who take Biblical authority seriously, this book targets the unsuspecting layman in the pew. And THAT makes it worth critiquing... Continue reading

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The indefatigible skeptic is at it again...His most recent polemic is entitled: Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (and Why We Don't Know About Them). 

Dr. Michael Kruger, Assistant Professor of NT at Reformed Theological Seminary, recently published a review of Ehrman's latest attack on the Faith in the Fall 2009 issue of the Westminster Theological Journal. It has been posted on the Reformation 21 website in its entirety.

Like all unbelieving attacks on the Scriptures, it is a religious and philosophical polemic under the false guise of unbiased, neutral scholarship. In the end, Ehrman has substituted Christianity for another religious belief system: post-modern agnosticism. Easily identified and refuted by committed Christian scholars and apologists who take Biblical authority seriously, this book targets the unsuspecting layman in the pew.

And THAT makes it worth critiquing.

Here are a few excerpts of Dr. Kruger's review in blockquotes:

Indeed, in this opening chapter he describes evangelicals in his university classes as those who "cover their ears and hum loudly so that they don't have to hear anything that might cause them to doubt their cherished beliefs" (14). Such ridicule forces the reader into a false (but effective) dilemma: (1) maintain your belief in the Bible by sacrificing your intellectual integrity; or (2) embrace all the conclusions of modern critical scholarship. By framing the debate in such a way, the reader is forced to decide which way to go before any evidence is even examined. It is not surprising, then, that the rest of the chapters in the book come off as more convincing to the average reader than they otherwise would--Ehrman's strategy forces their hand from the very first page. For one who claims to be nothing but an unbiased historian, this is an odd place to begin a book.

Perhaps the most frustrating portion of these chapters is when Ehrman attempts to argue for theological contradictions, as opposed to just historical ones... Unfortunately, Ehrman's discussion proves to be remarkably shallow and exhibits no awareness of the major issues or categories--no discussion of the different kinds of OT laws, no discussion of the three uses of the moral law of God, no nuance regarding the role of works as fruit of salvation versus grounds of salvation, no careful distinction between justification and sanctification, and no mention of how these issues have been understood historically. Instead, Ehrman paints with a considerably broad brush and offers no detailed exegesis.

In chapter four, Ehrman discusses the authorship of the four gospels and argues that none of them were written by disciples or eyewitnesses, but by anonymous Christians in the late first century. The arguments here are nothing new, but what is new (or at least noteworthy) is the degree to which Ehrman simply ignores any scholars (even critical ones) who disagree with him.

In the final chapter (8), Ehrman leaves his general critique of Christianity and puts forward his own views about faith, God, and religion.  Here he offers his fundamental maxim, "In my opinion, people need to use their intelligence to evaluate what they find true and untrue in the Bible" and thus you need "to pick and choose what you want to accept" (281). In other words, the historical criticism of the Bible shows us that we cannot look to a book as our authority--each person is their own authority and must decide for themselves what is right or wrong, true or false.

In the end, Jesus Interrupted can be best summarized as a book filled with ironies.  Ironic that it purports to be about unbiased history but rarely presents an opposing viewpoint; ironic that it claims to follow the scholarly consensus but breaks from it so often; ironic that it insists on the historical-critical method but then reads the gospels with a modernist, overly-literal hermeneutic; ironic that it claims no one view of early Christianity could be "right" (Walter Bauer) but then proceeds to tell us which view of early Christianity is "right;" ironic that it dismisses Papias with a wave of the hand but presents the Gospel of the Ebionites as if it were equal to the canonical four; and ironic that it declares everyone can "pick and choose" what is right for them, but then offers its own litany of moral absolutes.  Such intellectual schizophrenia suggests there is more going on in Jesus Interrupted than meets the eye. 

Though veiled in the garb of scholarship, this book is religious at the core.  Ehrman does not so much offer history as he does theology, not so much academics as he does his own ideology. The reader does not get a post-religious Ehrman as expected, but simply gets a new-religious Ehrman--an author who has traded in one religious system (Christianity) for another (postmodern agnosticism).  Thus, Ehrman is not out to squash religion as so many might suppose.  He is simply out to promote his own.  He is preacher turned scholar turned preacher.  And of all the ironies, perhaps that is the greatest.

Our brethren in the church are being bewitched and dragged away by the proclamations of Bart Ehrman. We strongly recommend you read this critique in its entirety and prayerfully consider how it can be used in your apologetic encounters and interactions in the church.

Read the complete review at Reformation 21...

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2/8/2010 3:09 AM #

It needs to be noted that in his much hyped interview with Hershal Shanks and 3 other scholars found both in BAR and the book, Scholars on Record, Ehrman stated that he 'wants to believe again'.  I see no evidence of this desire and this latest book seems to put a end to the issue as he goes further and further from God.

I have noticed over the years that many people say they want to believe BUT they all want to do it their own way , not God's and construct their faith their own way. That is where they err. It is God's creation, His universe, His world, His plan of salvation, His rules.

Dr. David T. - 2/8/2010 3:09:38 AM

2/10/2010 1:56 PM #

I see no evidence of this desire and this latest book seems to put a end to the issue as he goes further and further from God. ...but like always i'll say he gets more and more ridiculous ! - 2/10/2010 1:56:32 PM

3/21/2010 4:10 AM #

I think the first problem Ehrman had was the way he approached the Bible. Upon being exposed to the possibility of error in one of the records (note only the possibility, not a certainty) he came out with the ridiculous notion that if the Bible was not correct in all, then it could not be correct at all.

If we used that criteria when investigating ancient documents we'd have to throw up our hands and say that there was nothing about the ancient world that we could know from their writings. No historian would accept such a conclusion.

Approaching the Bible as you would any other text, using the same basic assumptions as you would when approaching Herodotus or Tacitus, you'd find that it was a very good record. Could there be minor errors of time and location? Perhaps, but then we have to deal with the reality that they didn't have watches, and exact locations, rather than "near-enough" locations, were unnecessary for the stories the writers were telling. Certainly no one has found a serious error affecting any core Christian doctrine in centuries of trying.

Jason - 3/21/2010 4:10:23 AM

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