If one accepts the dating of some modern scholars, the earliest canonical gospel–the Gospel of Mark–was not written until 70 AD or later.
This means there was a gap of time of about 40 years between the life of Jesus and our earliest Gospel that records his words and deeds.
What happened to the stories of Jesus during this period of time? Since such stories were largely passed down orally, can this process be trusted? Did Christians change the stories along the way? Is it reasonable to think that Christians could have even remembered the details accurately?
These are the questions raised in Jesus Before the Gospels, Bart Ehrman’s latest Easter-timed book attacking the reliability and historical integrity of the New Testament.
Prior installments in Ehrman’s “you can’t trust the Bible” series include Forged in 2011, Jesus, Interrupted in 2009, God’s Problem in 2007, and Misquoting Jesus in 2005.
Each of these books, though different in the specific topic, tells the same overall story: Ehrman, once an evangelical who attended Moody Bible Institute and Wheaton College, has now discovered, along with the consensus of modern scholarship, that the New Testament, and the Gospels in particular, do not provide a trustworthy account of the historical Jesus.
Instead, what we have (according to Ehrman) are books that are forgeries, contain contradictions, have morally-questionable teachings, and have been edited and changed throughout the centuries.
My full-length review of Ehrman’s new volume has just been published over at the Gospel Coalition website. See here.
In addition, you can listen to my hour-long interview about Ehrman’s book on the nationally-syndicated radio program, Stand to Reason with Greg Koukl. Download here.
Would someone be able to explain Mr. Ehrman’s position to me? I have read (second-hand) that he would accept the NA27 text with only about 10 or so changes (noted by Tommy Wasserman in a footnote of one of Tommy’s papers), and that he and Metzger could have agreed on an ‘original’ (or very close to original, ie, reflecting the intent of the authors if not the exact words) NT text. But I also read may evangelicals responding to him and quoting him as saying we have little reason to believe we have an accurate representation of the original text in our extant manuscripts or Jesus views have been misinterpreted severely.
Timothy Joseph says
The reason you have read both is because Bart said both. When he writes scholarly works he maintains the view that what we have accurately represents the original manuscripts with a few differences.
When he writes popular books like the one reviewed here, he makes the statements that evangelicals respond to.
Thank-you for your clear response. That helps immensely.
Are you saying he is purposely inconsistent, or just schizophrenic?
Timothy Joseph says
Not really sure of Bart’s motivation, just stated what I have seen with my own eyes and has been reported by others!
Steve Mittelstaedt says
A brief question of clarification from your review: are you merely contrasting Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, or is Ehrman responding directly to Richard Bauckham’s book?
If the latter, does he address the correlation of given names that Bauckham highlights?
Dan M says
The liberating thing about challenging Papias’ veracity is not that we can push the Gospels into the 2nd century, as highly redacted creations of one branch of the Christian movement, but rather that we can assess the potential for earlier dates for the gospels.
One can now more unashamedly ask, “If you were one of the disciples, then how long would you wait before publishing ‘the good news’ to the growing church?” One can then explore what it would look like for Paul to be bringing Mark and Matthew with him during his missionary journeys, and how the needs would be met, of Jewish believers accustomed to reading from the Hebrew scriptures every Sabbath, and of the educated Greeks and Romans.