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)

Speakers

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.

Summary

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.

2 thoughts on “Bart Ehrman debates the reliability of the gospels with Craig Evans”

  1. Hey thanks WK! I noticed his arguments and the same as some Muslim apologists.

    Have you written on anything related to a defense of the Gospel of John?
    Thanks!!

    Like

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