Is Bart Ehrman still claiming that the four New Testament gospel books (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) have contradictions? How can he still be saying that after many good explanations are available? How can he still be proclaiming his false teaching? Doesn’t he care to listen to the biblical experts who can explain how we can know that each one of his alleged contradictions is not a contradiction at all? Ehrman is an agnostic professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill who presented at least three of his concerns in a video and went on to list about seven alleged contradictions. Unfortunately, the Christian he was talking to did not offer any significant explanation as to why Ehrman is wrong. The Christian went on to say, all that matters is that Jesus rose from the dead. What? Yes, the resurrection does matter, but so do false claims of contradictions. Working out every contradictory claim does not matter? Of course they matter. It takes time to present why the contradictory claim is not actually a contradiction. If a skeptic really wants to know if a contradictory claim is just an error on behalf of the reader or the critic, let the skeptic take the time to listen to several theologians and understand what the theologians are saying and why they are saying it. If a skeptic does not really want to find good reasons why particular contradictions do not exist in the biblical text, it might be because that skeptic has a difficult time admitting he is wrong.
Ehrman, the agnostic professor and gospel skeptic, began with three concerns that he calls “problems with the gospels.” However, the problems remain with Ehrman’s lack of research and with his lack of understanding about the context, historical culture, and Mosaic law even though he is called a leading expert on textual criticism. If Ehrman continues to not accept the explanations for why his alleged contradictions are not really contradictions, then it might be because Ehrman just does not want to admit being in the wrong. Theologian Dr. Norm Geisler evaluated Bart Ehrman’s views and determined that Ehrman is not approaching the text as a neutral observer.
“Bart Ehrman believes that people should approach the Bible without any presuppositions. They should not read the text through the eyes of faith but as neutral scientific observers. The difficulty with this claim is that even Ehrman does not approach the text as a neutral scientific observer but as one with presuppositions that are contrary to inerrancy. Thus it is no surprise that his conclusions oppose inerrancy.” – Dr. Norman Giesler, Defending Inerrancy, page 70.
In this blog, I will give a short response to some of Ehrman’s claims, but a very much longer presentation can be made, perhaps in a book, showing how all of his contradictory claims are really not contradictions at all.
- Gospel Dates – Ehrman claimed that the (publication) dates of the gospels are a problem. No, the publication dates and writing dates are not a problem. The early dating of the four gospels add credibility and reliability to the text so much so that we can be certain that God preserved the original texts. First, can Ehrman bring more value to the fact that the publication process and writing process was vastly different back then? He completely overlooks the entire writing process that took place from 30 AD-70 AD. While qualified writers at that time were able to use certain materials to write down specific texts, the serious nature of some Jewish priests hating Jesus, being jealous of Jesus, and calling for his death made the writing process even more protective. It is quite amazing that the four gospels survived at all under terrible authority figures. Ehrman cannot expect to apply a writing process and a publication process from 2018 to a time so long ago. I would expect that the original was significantly protected, and the task of reproducing the original was also significantly protected, both tasks which are completely ignored by Ehrman. Second, not only have the four gospels been dated to the lifetime of the author, biblical experts suggest that a fifth document most likely did exist, a document they often refer to as the Q document, which part of it may very well have been written during the life of Jesus, for example, soon after an event, sermon, or conversation occurred. Ehrman may be a leading expert in applying criticism to a text, but he is most definitely not a leading gospel expert by any means. He is not a biblical expert at all. Third, since there is no mention of the temple being destroyed in 70 AD, we have yet another clue as to the early dating of the gospels, placed before 70 AD, because at least one of the authors, if not all of the authors, would have included the major historical event in the New Testament texts.
- Authors and Eyewitnesses – Ehrman claimed that there were no eye witnesses in the video? Did he misspeak? Of course the four gospels have eye witnesses directly to Jesus himself. Matthew was a tax collector who was a direct disciple of Jesus. Mark worked closely with Peter who was a direct disciple of Jesus. Luke traveled with Paul who had a remarkable encounter with the risen Lord Jesus Christ that forever changed his life. John was a direct disciple of Jesus. The authors of the four gospels were most certainly qualified to report the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. For more information about early gospel dates and the reliability of the gospel writers, please read this short booklet, Why Four Gospels? The Historical Origins of the Gospels by David Alan Black.
- Oral Reports Passed On – First of all, while verbal storytelling most likely did occur in history, how can Ehrman be so sure that no one wrote down anything? He can’t. The Q document hypothesis shows that if the story was written down and reproduced, which it was, then it did not have any time to be changed. Once a story is written and reproduced, such as anything from Gilgamesh to any other historical document, it becomes a specific story. Once a written story is reproduced and begins to circulate, the original becomes obvious. Today, we have thousands of early dated copies of the same gospel story. The story did not change from year to year like Ehrman imagines. Second, The “telehone operator game” that second graders play does not apply to the publication process, and it does not apply to a monologue that is memorized and performed in front of an audience. Third, some people have remarkable memories and can recite word for word from scripts and monologues. I personally witnessed in my lifetime a speaker recite the entire book of Revelation from memory in front of a large audience. Even if sermons were given verbally in the past, when the same sermon is given over and over, it most certainly does not change at all. Rather, it becomes even more ingrained into the memory, in a very precise way, much like a stage performer where the speaker recites exact lines night after night without error.
- Date When Jesus Died – Ehrman is confused about Mark’s testimony of the day when the Passover meal was eaten. Ehrman compares Mark’s testimony to John’s testimony of the day when the Passover meal was eaten. There are a few reasons why some people might have trouble identifying the day of the Passover meal that Jesus ate. Here is how we can be certain that Jesus ate the Passover meal on Thursday night. First of all, the Old Testament is very clear in several different books of the Pentateuch when the Israelites were supposed to eat the Passover meal (Lev. 23:4-8, Nu. 28:16-25). It says the Passover meal is supposed to be eaten on the first calendar Jewish month (Abib, also called Nisan), on the fourteenth day at twilight. The Passover dinner was supposed to be a one time dinner once a year. Second, the Jewish day would begin at twilight and extend into the night and throughout the next sunlight part of the day. Ehrman completely overlooks this important cultural difference between the culture back then to the culture today. So the fifteenth can also be called Passover day, but the Passover dinner was supposed to be eaten at twilight on the fourteenth day of Nisan (Abib). Jesus knew all these festival rules and regulations. He followed them by eating the Passover meal that we refer to as his Last Supper, but other corrupt priests might have planned on eating a Passover dinner on another night during the seven days that followed, which they were not supposed to do. In other words, corrupt priests may not have been following the rules for when to eat the Passover meal. Third, the Feast of Unleavened Bread lasted seven days beginning with Passover (day) on the fourteenth/fifteenth. Some people may have referred to the seven day celebration by calling all seven days the Passover Week. In the gospels, we hear what the people were actually saying and doing, but the law of Moses describes what was actually supposed to happen (Ex. 23:14-15). Fourth, the “preparation day” most likely refers to Friday, the day before the Sabbath day. Every Friday was called the Jewish day of preparation in order to rest on the Sabbath (Saturday). On the fourteenth of the first month, however, the Israelites still had to prepare for the Passover meal. Thursday that year was also a kind of preparation day, preparing for the Passover dinner that night. According to the law of Moses, the Feast of Unleavened Bread required food preparations on all seven days of the celebration. If Ehrman would take the time to understand some of these things, he would not be concluding with contradictions. Further explained in this way: Thursday the fourteenth of Nisan is when Jesus had the Last Supper at its proper time when the Passover dinner was supposed to occur, according to the law of Moses. Jesus was arrested after dinner. The next day was Friday the fifteenth of Nisan when Jesus was crucified, but it was technically still called Passover Day. Friday happened to be the day of preparation for the Sabbath, but it was also the day of preparation for the first Day of Unleavened Bread when the sacred assembly celebrated. John 19:14 does not contradict any other gospel book. Some people began to call the seven day celebration of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, “Passover Week.” Fifth, in the Pentateuch, some people asked if they could still participate in the Passover meal even if they had been around a dead person. According to the books of Moses (Nu. 9:7-16; 19:11-16), a person who touched or was around a dead person was considered to be unclean for seven days. After Moses asked the Lord about this, the Lord instructed those unclean people to celebrate the Passover dinner in the following month, the second month of the Jewish calendar, at twilight on the fourteenth. In other words, no… anyone who touched a dead person or anyone who was around the dead person cannot participate in the ceremony because they are unclean for seven days. This might be why some people backed away from Jesus when he was dying on the cross: they didn’t want to be counted as unclean for seven days.
- Time Jesus Was Crucified – Ehrman is confused about Mark and John’s testimony of when Jesus was crucified. Mark 15:24-25 says Jesus was crucified in the third hour whereas John 19:14-16 says Jesus was crucified in about the sixth hour. First of all, it is important to understand how they told time back then. Ehrman completely overlooks this historical time telling system. The first hour was at sunrise. The third hour was mid-morning. The sixth hour was mid-day. The ninth hour was mid-afternoon. The twelfth hour was twilight/sunset. Second, try not using a modern clock for just one month and see if you can figure out when it is 10:30 AM and when it is 11 AM. The point is that it is difficult to distinguish between the end of the third hour and the beginning of the sixth hour. Third, the third hour might have included anything from 9 AM-11 AM, which is the accepted time frame of when Jesus was crucified. John was not wrong when he said it was “about” the sixth hour. He was estimating. Fourth, the two accounts actually give us more information that the time must have been closer to the beginning of the sixth hour, closer at the end of the third hour, and not during the beginning of the third hour.
For the sake of respecting your time, I will stop here, but much more needs to be said in response to Ehrman’s false teaching. If you can respond to Ehrman’s false claims of contradictions, I would encourage you to blog about it or write a book. These false claims and many more from Ehrman can be shown how they are not contradictions. We need to show why these false claims are false so that Ehrman stops misleading college students and stops with his false teachings about the gospel accounts. I am convinced that Ehrman has not given his claims enough research nor has he been fair to listen to the reasons why we can know for sure that his claims are not true contradictions after all. We really can know the Bible is the Word of God, without error.