Tag Archives: Mark

Bart Ehrman debates the reliability of the gospels with Craig Evans

Sherlock Holmes and John Watson
Sherlock Holmes and John Watson

This is the first debate ever between these two top-ranked scholars. Both Evans and Ehrman are probably 2 of the 10 most recognized historical Jesus scholars.

The MP3 audio and a link to the video is here. (From Brian Auten at Apologetics 315)


Bart Ehrman

Dr. Ehrman, is a graduate of Wheaton College (Illinois), Professor Ehrman received both his Masters of Divinity and Ph.D. from Princeton Theological Seminary, where his 1985 doctoral dissertation was awarded magna cum laude. Since then he has published extensively in the fields of New Testament and Early Christianity, having written or edited twenty-one books, numerous scholarly articles, and dozens of book reviews. Among his fields of scholarly expertise are the historical Jesus, the early Christian apocrypha, the apostolic fathers, and the manuscript tradition of the New Testament.

Craig Evans

Dr. Evans received his B.A. degree in History and Philosophy from Claremont McKenna College, his M.Div. degree from Western Baptist Seminary in Portland, Oregon, and his M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in Biblical Studies from Claremont Graduate University in southern California. Author and editor of more than fifty books and hundreds of articles and reviews, Professor Evans has given lectures at Cambridge, Durham, Oxford, Yale, and other universities, colleges, seminaries, and museums, such as the Field Museum in Chicago and the Canadian Museum of Civilization in Ottawa.

Note: This is a very snarky summary, and I am just paraphrasing things to be silly and funny. Reader discretion is advised.


Snarky things I made up are in italics.

Question 1: are the gospels historically reliable?

Bart Ehrman opening speech:

  • I used to be an ignorant fundamentalist like you!
  • but then I went to Princeton, and now I know better
  • to Craig: are there errors in the Bible
  • the gospels have some reliable and some unreliable info
  • only careless readers don’t see contradictions in the gospels
  • contradictions in the genealogies
  • contradictions in timing of recognizing Jesus as the Messiah
  • contradiction about when Jesus died
  • contradiction about when the stone was rolled away
  • contradiction about who was at the empty tomb
  • contradiction about when the disciples went to Galilee
  • contradictions in minor details means the gospels are unreliable

Craig Evans opening speech:

  • the question is “do the gospels tell us enough about Jesus for faith?”
  • the gospels don’t tell us everything, but they tell enough for faith
  • the extremely early creed in 1 Cor 15:3-7 has an outline of the gospel
  • it contains the burial, the appearances to eyewitnesses
  • and it agrees with the early sermons of Peter in Acts 2
  • the gospels agree with these extremely early summaries
  • the gospels are based on earlier sources
  • the gospels are corroborated by the Jewish historian Josephus

Question 2: Do the gospels accurately preserve the teachings of Jesus Christ?

Bart Ehrman

  • are there any discrepancies in the gospels?
  • the gospels have things Jesus said, and things he didn’t say
  • if the Bible is inaccurate in some minor details, then it’s all unreliable
  • in the latest gospel, John, Jesus calls himself God and sees himself as divine
  • but these high-Christology statements are not in the synoptics
  • therefore, Jesus really didn’t say these things
  • why didn’t the synoptics record these claims to divinity
  • the author of John changed the words of Jesus and John the Baptist?

Craig Evans

  • E.P. Sanders (a non-Christian scholar) says we can know what Jesus taught
  • cites E.P.’s list of Jesus’ core teachings that are agreed on by most scholars
  • Jesus’ focus was talking about the Kingdom of God – the rule of God
  • Jesus’ followers were expected to record and understand the words of Jesus
  • It is permissible for the followers of Jesus to have some editorial license

Question 3: Do the gospels accurately preserve the activities of Jesus Christ?

Bart Ehrman

  • E.P. Sanders agrees with me that there are discrepancies in the gospels
  • E.P. Sanders agrees with me that there are mistakes in the gospels
  • If Jesus’ followers changed his words a little, then we can’t know anything he said
  • If the author changes the story a little, then the story was changed a lot
  • If there not 100% accurate, then they’re not accurate at all
  • contradiction of the ordering of Jesus’ temptations
  • contradiction of the number of animals Jesus rode into Jerusalem
  • contradiction of whether Jesus spoke or didn’t speak in some instance
  • contradiction of what Jesus said on the cross
  • contradiction of the number of robbers who speak to Jesus
  • Jesus can only say ONE THING when he’s on the cross
  • the gospel writers have to be in complete agreement

Craig Evans

  • E.P. Sanders (non-Christian) lists 7 virtually indisputable facts about Jesus
  • just because there are discrepancies, doesn’t mean there are no minimal facts
  • in additional to E.P. Sanders, there are other facts that are widely-accepted
  • many assertions in the gospels are embarrassing to the author
  • many liberal scholars think that Jesus was a healer and an exorcist
  • all scholars agree on the crucifixion
  • most scholars accept the “King of the Jews” placard placed over the cross
  • this means that Jesus was viewed by his followers as the Messiah

Question 4: Do the gospels contain eyewitness tradition?

Bart Ehrman

  • I used to be an ignorant uninformed fundie, like you all
  • but then I started to study seriously, not like Craig Evans
  • I changed my mind based on intense research, not peer pressure
  • My apostasy has nothing to do with the problem of evil and suffering!
  • I use my brain, and Craig Evans and you fundies don’t use your brains
  • the gospels don’t claim to be written by eyewitnesses
  • the titles of the gospels were added later
  • the gospels don’t claim to be written by the authors attributed to them
  • the gospels were written anonymously
  • the gospels only had names attached in 120-140 AD
  • even if gospels were written by eyewitnesses, they are not always accurate
  • written 40-60 years after Jesus died
  • written in Greek, not Aramaic
  • written in different countries
  • based on stories that were told and retold and changed over time

Craig Evans

  • Richard Bauckham says the gospels are largely based on eyewitness accounts
  • the gospels were written while there were still eyewitnesses alive
  • the people who met Jesus were there to correct the written accounts
  • there were many disputes about things in the early church, so if the early church invented sayings, then why not invent sayings of Jesus to resolve the disputes?
  • there is no evidence of things being invented wholesale by the early church
  • Pappias says that he talked to Christians who knew the eyewitnesses to Jesus

Question 5: Do archaeologists and historians use the gospels as sources?

Bart Ehrman

  • archaeologists do not use the gospels, they just dig things up
  • historians do use gospels
  • Jesus is not mentioned by any Greek or Roman non-Christian source for 80 years after Jesus’ death
  • The earliest Jewish source is Josephus, writing 60 years after Jesus’ death
  • Paul is the earliest source, but says nothing about Jesus’ words and deeds
  • the earliest sources for words and deeds are the discrepancy-filled gospels
  • the gospels are based on telling and re-telling of the stories

Craig Evans

  • James Charlesworth has a 700-book about archaeology and the Bible
  • the book contains hundreds of references to the four gospels
  • the four gospels and Acts are viewed as the best sources for archaeologists
  • they provide accurate information about the way things were
  • the gospels and Acts helps archaeologists to know where to dig for things
  • the Biblical sources are early and based on eyewitnesses
  • the gospels and Acts fit well in the first century culture
  • the gospels and Acts talk about real events and real places and real customs
  • the gospels and Acts talk about real buildings and real public figures and real groups
  • the language of the gospels traces back nicely to Aramaic
  • the gospels talk about geography and climate
  • archaeologists discover many things discussed in the gospels

Question 6: Have the gospels been accurately preserved done through the centuries

Bart Ehrman

  • if God inspired the Bible without error, he should have preserved it without error
  • but the originals have NOT been preserved without error
  • so I no longer accept the inerrancy of the autographs (the originals)
  • we don’t have the originals
  • we only have copies of copies… of copies… of copies… of copies
  • and the copiers all made mistakes
  • the first manuscripts are decades later
  • and the manuscripts we have are different from one another
  • the earliest copies have the most mistakes
  • even if we have many copies, they are late, so we don’t know what the original said
  • we don’t have early manuscripts

Craig Evans

  • we know where the discrepancies in the manuscripts are
  • the discrepancies are marked in your Bible
  • the discrepancies affect peripheral issues
  • some discrepancies are supported by other verses
  • Mark doesn’t have the appearances, but 1 Cor 15 does, and it’s earlier
  • the errors are things like spelling and grammar errors, typos, etc.
  • we have fragments that are earlier than the full manuscripts
  • some early manuscripts have errors, but other early manuscripts are correct

Question 7: Do scribal errors and textual variants significantly impact any teaching of Jesus or any important Christian teaching?

Bart Ehrman

  • the woman caught in adultery is a late addition
  • the ending of Mark is a late addition
  • can we handle snakes or can’t we?
  • did Jesus sweat blood or didn’t he?
  • some manuscripts have errors – that should not be allowed by God
  • some scribes are careless – that should not be allowed by God
  • we have to have perfect copies of the originals, or I won’t believe!
  • if God really inspired it, it all has to be perfect! Perfect! I was lied to!!!!
  • if the snake-handling verse isn’t there, then the whole Bible is lies! Lies!

Craig Evans

  • no variants impact any teaching of Jesus or significant Christian teaching
  • the vast majority of the manuscripts agree on 98-99% of the text
  • often, the theology gives rise to a variant, which is introduced later
  • variants aren’t central enough to affect any theological doctrines

And then there are concluding speeches by each speaker.

I made this summary based on the video, which is here on Apologetics 315.

Has the Creator of the universe ever spoken to us?

Has God every reached out to humanity?
Has God every reached out to humanity?

People often ask the question, “why must I believe in Jesus and only Jesus in order to be rightly related to God?”

Indeed. Why should we care about the teachings of Jesus more than any other religious leader. Well, we know from scientific evidence that the universe had a beginning, and hence a Creator. We know from the fine-tuning argument that there is a Designer of the cosmos, as well. So the question becomes, has there ever been a human being who could give us accurate information about who the Creator and Designer is?

It turns that there is such a person, and we know it because we have evidence that this person rose from the dead – a feat only possible if the Creator and Designer wanted to draw attention to this person, and to his teachings. The account of this is recorded in a collection of ancient writings called the New Testament, which can be investigated using the ordinary rules of ancient historiography. Although much of what is written in the New Testament cannot be proven historical, a few facts that are reported there pass the mainstream historical tests. From those facts, we can infer that God was putting his stamp of approval on the teachings of a very important person.

The man who returned from the dead

Dr. Craig’s famous minimal facts case for the resurrection has been posted at the Christian Apologetics Alliance. He presents 4 facts admitted by the majority of New Testament historians, and then he supplies multiple pieces of evidence for each fact.

Here are the four facts:

  • FACT #1: After his crucifixion, Jesus was buried in a tomb by Joseph of Arimathea. 
  • FACT #2: On the Sunday following the crucifixion, Jesus’ tomb was found empty by a group of his women followers.
  • FACT #3: On multiple occasions and under various circumstances, different individuals and groups of people experienced appearances of Jesus alive from the dead.
  • FACT #4: The original disciples believed that Jesus was risen from the dead despite their having every predisposition to the contrary.

He shows how each fact is supported reasons which pass the standard historical rules used by ancient historians.

Here’s the detail on fact #3, the post-mortem appearances.

FACT #3: On multiple occasions and under various circumstances, different individuals and groups of people experienced appearances of Jesus alive from the dead.

This is a fact which is almost universally acknowledged among New Testament scholars, for the following reasons:

1. The list of eyewitnesses to Jesus’ resurrection appearances which is quoted by Paul in I Cor. 15. 5-7 guarantees that such appearances occurred. These included appearances to Peter (Cephas), the Twelve, the 500 brethren, and James.

2. The appearance traditions in the gospels provide multiple, independent attestation of these appearances. This is one of the most important marks of historicity. The appearance to Peter is independently attested by Luke, and the appearance to the Twelve by Luke and John. We also have independent witness to Galilean appearances in Mark, Matthew, and John, as well as to the women in Matthew and John.

3. Certain appearances have earmarks of historicity. For example, we have good evidence from the gospels that neither James nor any of Jesus’ younger brothers believed in him during his lifetime. There is no reason to think that the early church would generate fictitious stories concerning the unbelief of Jesus’ family had they been faithful followers all along. But it is indisputable that James and his brothers did become active Christian believers following Jesus’ death. James was considered an apostle and eventually rose to the position of leadership of the Jerusalem church. According to the first century Jewish historian Josephus, James was martyred for his faith in Christ in the late AD 60s. Now most of us have brothers. What would it take to convince you that your brother is the Lord, such that you would be ready to die for that belief? Can there be any doubt that this remarkable transformation in Jesus’ younger brother took place because, in Paul’s words, “then he appeared to James”?

Even Gert Ludemann, the leading German critic of the resurrection, himself admits, “It may be taken as historically certain that Peter and the disciples had experiences after Jesus’ death in which Jesus appeared to them as the risen Christ.”3

Yes, Gerd Ludemann is actually an atheist new Testament historian, and he has even debated Dr. Craig on the resurrection – not once, but twice. That’s the kind of evidence Dr. Craig uses in his case.

So, if you are undertaking an investigation to see if the God who creates and designs the universe has anything to say to you, a good place to start is seeing what this guy Jesus had to say to you. No faith required.

Mike Licona explains the As, Bs, Cs, Ds and Es of New Testament reliability

Mike Licona is one of my favorite Christian apologists, and here is an excellent lecture to show you why.

In the lecture, he explains why the four biographies in the New Testament should be accepted as historically accurate: (55 minutes)


  • What a Baltimore Ravens helmet teaches us about the importance of truth
  • What happens to Christians when they go off to university?
  • The 2007 study on attitudes of American professors to evangelical Christians
  • Authors: Who wrote the gospels?
  • Bias: Did the bias of the authors cause them to distort history?
  • Contradictions: What about the different descriptions of events in the gospels?
  • Dating: When were the gospels written?
  • Eyewitnesses: Do the gospel accounts go back to eyewitness testimony?

This is basic training for Christians. It would be nice if every Christian was equipped in church to be able to make a case like this.

Did the early church invent the divinity of Jesus over a long period of time?

How early is the doctrine of the divinity of Jesus?

When I answer this question, I only want to use the earliest, most reliable sources – so I can defend them on historical grounds using the standard rules of historiography.

The 4 sources that I would use are as follows:

  • The early creed in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8, and 1 Corinthians 1
  • A passage in Philippians 2
  • Two passages from Mark, the earliest gospel
  • A passage from Q, which is an early source of Matthew and Luke

So let’s see the passages.

1 Corinthians

I’ve written before about the early creed in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8, which skeptical scholars date to 1-3 years after the death of Jesus, for a variety of reasons I covered in the previous post. Here’s the creed which definitely makes Jesus out to be more than an ordinary man. Ordinary men don’t get resurrection bodies after they die.

Here’s the passage: (1 Cor 15:3-8)

3For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures,

4that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,

5and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve.

6After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep.

7Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles,

8and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.

Additionally, 1 Corinthians 1:21-25 talks about Jesus being “the power of God and the wisdom of God”. Paul is identifying Jesus with the divine.

21For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe.

22Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom,

23but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles,

24but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.

25For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength.

But it gets even stronger! You all probably already know that the most important passages in the Old Testament for Jews is the famous “Shema“, which is found in Deuteronomy 6:4-9. The Shema is a strong statement of Jewish monotheism.

Here’s the passage:

4 Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.

5 Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.

6 These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts.

7 Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.

8 Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads.

9 Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.

So how does Paul fit Jesus in with this strong statement of Jewish monotheism?

Paul alludes to the Shema in 1 Corinthians 8:4-6.

4So then, about eating food sacrificed to idols: We know that an idol is nothing at all in the world and that there is no God but one.

5For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”),

6yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live.

Holy mackerel! How did that get in there? Paul is splitting the roles of God in the the Shema and identifying Jesus in one of the divine roles! Jesus is not an ordinary man. That passage “through whom all things came” foreshadows John identifying Jesus as “the Word of God”, which “became flesh and dwelt among us”. Holy snark – did you guys know that was all in here so early?

The date for 1 Corinthians is 55 AD. It should be noted that skeptical scholars like James Crossley accept these passages, and you can check it out in the debate audio yourself.


Check out Philippians 2:5-11.

5Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:

6Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,

7but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.

8And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death— even death on a cross!

9Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name,

10that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

11and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

The date for Philippians is 60-61 AD. Still within the lifetime of the eyewitnesses, and written by an eyewitness who was in contact with the other eyewitnesses, like Peter and James, whom Paul spoke with numerous times on his journeys to Jerusalem.

Mark’s gospel

Mark’s gospel is the earliest and atheists like James Crossley date it to less than 40 AD, which is 10 years after the death of Jesus at most. When you read the gospel of Mark, you are getting the earliest and best information available about the historical Jesus, along with Paul’s epistles. So what does Mark say about Jesus? Is Jesus just a man, or is he something more?

Check out Mark 12:1-9:

1He then began to speak to them in parables: “A man planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it, dug a pit for the winepress and built a watchtower. Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and went away on a journey.

2At harvest time he sent a servant to the tenants to collect from them some of the fruit of the vineyard.

3But they seized him, beat him and sent him away empty-handed.

4Then he sent another servant to them; they struck this man on the head and treated him shamefully.

5He sent still another, and that one they killed. He sent many others; some of them they beat, others they killed.

6“He had one left to send, a son, whom he loved. He sent him last of all, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’

7“But the tenants said to one another, ‘This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’

8So they took him and killed him, and threw him out of the vineyard.

9“What then will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and kill those tenants and give the vineyard to others.

And Mark 13:32, talking about the date of the final judgment.

32“No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.

And again, this passage is establishing a hierarchy such that Jesus is being exalted above all men and the angels, too. And the passage is embarrassing to the early church, because it makes Jesus look ignorant of something, so they would not have made this passage up. Jesus is not an ordinary man, he is above the angels – God’s unique Son.

The “Q” source for Matthew and Luke

Here’s Matthew 11:27, which is echoed in Luke 10:22:

27“All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.

22“All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows who the Son is except the Father, and no one knows who the Father is except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.”

Since this passage is in both of Matthew and Luke, but not in Mark, scholars believe that it is in the earlier “Q” source used by both Matthew and Luke. Q predates both Matthew and Luke, and so it is also fairly early (maybe 67-68), although not as early as Mark and Paul. Bill Craig writes that this passage is also embarrassing because it says that no one knows Jesus.

Mike Licona explains the As, Bs, Cs, Ds and Es of New Testament reliability

Mike Licona is one of my favorite Christian apologists, and here is an excellent lecture to show you why.

In the lecture, he explains why the four biographies in the New Testament should be accepted as historically accurate: (55 minutes)


  • What a Baltimore Ravens helmet teaches us about the importance of truth
  • What happens to Christians when they go off to university?
  • The 2007 study on attitudes of American professors to evangelical Christians
  • Authors: Who wrote the gospels?
  • Bias: Did the bias of the authors cause them to distort history?
  • Contradictions: What about the different descriptions of events in the gospels?
  • Dating: When were the gospels written?
  • Eyewitnesses: Do the gospel accounts go back to eyewitness testimony?

This is basic training for Christians. They ought to show this lecture whenever new people show up, because pastors should not quote the Bible until everyone listening has this information straight.