Assessing Bart Ehrman’s case against the resurrection of Jesus

Let’s start by listing some of Bart’s debates, and then we can take a look at his argument.

Bart Ehrman’s debates

  1. William Lane Craig vs. Bart Ehrman. The full transcript of the debate is here, so you can follow along with the video.
  2. Mike Licona’s first debate with Ehrman (audio, video).
  3. Ehrman’s debate with Peter Williams on the UK-based Unbelievable radio show.
  4. Ehrman’s debate with Dan Wallace
  5. Ehrman’s second debate with Licona can be ordered here for $10. Review is here.

Here’s William Lane Craig’s opening speech against Bart: (in 12 parts)

Part 1 of 12:

Part 2 of 12:

Bart’s argument

Bart Ehrman has a standard case based on 1) manuscript variants and 2) David Hume’s argument against miracles. Basically, he says that because the massive number of manuscripts contains a massive number of minor disagreements (see below), that the Bible cannot be trusted and therefore we can’t know whether Jesus rose bodily from the dead.

In Ehrman’s debate with Peter Williams on the UK-based Unbelievable radio show, and in Ehrman’s debate with Dan Wallace, Ehrman lists the 4 worst problems caused by the invariants:

  1. the woman caught in adultery (John 7:53-8:11) is a late addition not present in the earliest manuscripts
  2. the long ending of Mark (Mark 16:9-20) is a late addition not present in the earliest manuscripts
  3. Jesus was angry and not compassionate when he healed the leper (Mark 1:41)
  4. that Jesus died apart from God, and not by the grace of God (Hebrews 2:9)

I personally dislike that story in 1), because I think a lot of feminized Christians like it because they do not want to have their happiness diminished by moral judgments. They misunderstand this passage to support self-serving moral relativism and postmodern hedonism. Or worse, anti-capital-punishment. Eww.

This Bible verse is a favorite of all the liberal “Christian” women I’ve met. I’ve noticed that they are terrified of moral judgments and they don’t like to have to do anything for God, like study apologetics. I don’t like that. So I say: throw the girly-verse out! If you want a good verse that shows that Jesus liked women, you should be reading the woman at the well story. Or the women witnesses to the empty tomb.

Regarding 2), I like that long ending because it’s more useful from an apologetics standpoint. So I do care about this invariant, and I just don’t use that ending when I debate. For 3), I prefer angry Jesus to compassionate Jesus. And for 4) I really don’t care. It’s Hebrews! It’s not like it’s Mark or 1 Corinthians 15.

Ehrman’s argument against miracles is really just David Hume’s argument against miracles, which even non-Christian scholars, like John Earman, have defeated at the highest level here:

So, one can easily see that Bart Ehrman’s case is silly and amounts to nothing in a formal debate on the resurrection. If you want to understand why he is selling so many books, just like Dan Brown, you need to understand that people want space to invent a Jesus that they like. Bart gives them that space by fueling their skepticism of traditional Christianity.

Responding to Bart Ehrman with the minimal facts

Bart seems to be under the misapprehension that Christians argue for the resurrection by assuming the whole Bible is inspired. But we don’t. We use a minimal facts case where each fact had to pass a battery of standard historical tests for the genre of historical biography.

We come up with a list of minimal facts like this list:

  • the burial narrative
  • the empty tomb
  • the appearances
  • the early belief in a bodily resurrection

We argue that the bodily resurrection is the best explanation of these facts, and we refute all naturalistic explanations of these minimal facts like these:

  • Jesus wasn’t really dead
  • Someone stole the body
  • The appearances were hallucinations

One other thing that may be of interest is British scholar N.T. Wright’s case for the resurrection, based on the changes introduced in the belief and practice of the first Jewish converts to Christianity.

Further study

For further study of Licona and Ehrman, I would recommend the book “The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus”, by Gary Habermas and Mike Licona on the resurrection, which is the best introductory book you can get on how to argue the minimal facts case.

If you like Lee Strobel’s interviewing style, then you can’t go wrong with this book, “The Case for the Real Jesus” and his earlier book “The Case for Christ”. All the Lee Strobel books are excellent, the best books that a beginner can get – the ground floor of apologetics, so to speak.

If you prefer books featuring debates between opposing scholars, check out William Lane Craig against Gerd Ludemann here, (audio of their re-match is here), William Lane Craig against John Dominic Crossan here, (audio of the debate is here), or N. T. Wright against John Dominic Crossan here, (audio of the debate only is here).

Gary Habermas, (has dual doctorates from Oxford and Michigan State) is also a good source.

He debates a Duke University professor here: (one of my favorites)

Two Views on the Resurrection: Dialog with Dr. Joel Marcus, Professor of New Testament and Christian Origins at Duke University Divinity School
PART I (8MB) :|: PART II (8MB) :|: PART III (8MB) [MP3 files]

And he responds to Dan Brown’s fictional novels here:

Cracking the Da Vinci Code
PART I (8MB) :|: PART II (8MB) :|: PART III (5MB) :|: PART IV (5MB) [MP3 files]
Lecture given at the 4th Annual Worldview Apologetics Conference
April 21-22, 2006, Seattle, Washington

10 thoughts on “Assessing Bart Ehrman’s case against the resurrection of Jesus”

  1. I’m going to keep citing Frank Tipler’s The Physics of Christianity until someone (cough) actually reads it!

  2. “So I say: throw the girly-verse out!”

    Is it actually what I think it is or am I imagining things? Look, I don’t even know you personally, so I am not going to make any snap judgements against you. But seriously? Throw it out? I mean, you say that ’cause a bunch of liberal minded feminists twist that particular passage to satisfy their ill-conceived notions. Listen, I don’t personally think that passage has anything particular to do about that woman or women in general. It’s about the men who were judging that woman. Christ pointed the fact to those men that Moses’ law said “People caught in the act of adultery should be stoned to death” and not just the “Woman”. It takes 2 to commit adultery, is it not? Besides it was God’s commandment. Jesus wanted to point out their hypocrisy in judging people. He always pointed out hypocrisy, not just in this particular incident. It could have been any sinner but it just happened to be a ‘woman’ caught in adultery! And He has asked not to judge others (Matthew 7). He was being consistent with His preachings by practicing it! By teaching us how to do it! There’s nothing ‘girly’ about that passage, trust me! Besides He forgave her, ’cause He is a loving God, and He always hesitates to punish His people. He always had. Read about Jonah’s anger and you’ll know. And whether you like it or not, Bible is history. You just can’t throw out something you don’t like.

    As for Christ’s compassion towards women in particular, the best would be the passage where He heals the woman who touched His cloak. It’s my personal favourite ’cause that’s what woman liberation in faith really means to me. May be I should be ashamed or red-faced to speak openly about it, but I am not. I know women in Old Testament were considered not clean enough to pray during their monthly periodicals. In fact that practice is still prevalent in Judaism and Islam. Yet because Christ allowed that woman to touch Him and get healed that day, we Christian women have no such restrictions.

    And for your third point, I prefer Jesus as He is. I mean, He’s God. He’s perfect however He is!!

    I am sorry if you think I am over-reacting. I didn’t mean to sound harsh or anything. I was just simply surprised! And I am no feminist. Have never been and never will. I believe man is a little superior to woman because that’s the way God created us. I know many of my peers consider that thought a little antediluvian. It doesn’t mean I am submissive or anything. That’s the way I understand my faith.

    1. Dude. The verse is NOT in the earliest and best manuscripts. It says so in every copy of the Bible at the bottom of the page. In view of that, I am throwing it out.

      The fact that people that I know who misuse the verse is just an additional bonus for me. Just me being mean to theological liberals about their favorite verse. Oh, wait. They like that “Do not judge” verse. I don’t mind that one because if you read the context it’s a warning against hypocrisy, not all judging.

  3. Okay! My bad! I missed that part completely!! But my argument about that passage still holds good!! I was saying it’s against hypocrisy as well!! But I do certainly understand your ire against people twisting words to suit them. But the verse is certainly not to blamed for the idiocy of people like them!

  4. And about you preferring angry Jesus have you tried replacing the word “Love” in 1 Corinthians 13: 4-7 with Jesus? You would know then why I think Jesus as compassionate and loving is a perfect fit.

    1. Yeah, I think either meaning is fine there, but I don’t mind if Jesus is angry with that guy, because he tells the guy “Don’t say anything about me” and the guy runs off and talks about him. So Jesus might have been able to foresee this and therefore would have been angry with him in advance. Either way is fine.

      My point was that Ehrman is making a big deal out of nothing. No one argues for the resurrection based on these angry/compassionate Jesus verses. We argue for it on a subset of verses that are very solid and pass all the historical criteria. So when he attacks these other verses, it doesn’t matter to the case for the resurrection.

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