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Is the New Testament Authentic? Readers’ Mailbag December 4, 2016

QUESTION

Dr Ehrman, I found this attack against you:

Bart likes to deceive his listener by claiming more variations and more copies give birth to less authenticity. Actually flip that and you’ll begin to “see the light”.  The Bible manuscripts were transmitted not in a linear way, as in “Chinese whispers” but geometrically as in 1 produced by 5 others which in turn then produced, say 20, etc.

I think you already dealt with this claim, but I am unable to find your post.

 

RESPONSE

I have to admit that I have a hard time responding to this objection because I don’t know what the person is talking about.  Maybe someone else can enlighten me.   For openers, I’m not sure what he means that I “like” to deceive my listeners – I think that must mean I do this a lot.  And the “deception” appears to be that I think lots of variations in the manuscripts of the New Testament make something “less authentic.”  But what does the person mean?   Exactly what is less authentic?  The words of the Bible?  The words of Jesus?  The message of the Bible?  Christian beliefs?  Something else?   And what does it mean to be less authentic?  Less than what?   And – my biggest problem – what does “authentic” even mean?

I’m not simply asking a set of rhetorical questions: I genuinely don’t know what this person is talking about.

I suppose the reason I have these problems is …

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Finding Meaning in the Bible: More Responses to my Christmas Article
Response to my Newsweek Article on Christmas

96

Comments

  1. Liam Foley  December 4, 2016

    1. .I hate to bring up another attack against you, but a friend I have debated with in the past, a fundamentalist, has been critical of you and your views on variants. This is what he has had to say…

    “The problem I have with the way this issue is represented in his work is that he (Bart Ehrman) doesn’t often make a point to say directly that the variants are “completely unimportant and insignificant” and spends most of his effort trying to suggest the opposite. Worse is the fact that he simply states things that aren’t accurate sometimes, such as the contention that Jesus’ divinity is only confirmed in John or that Luke rejects the atonement. Both are simply false and I don’t know how he can make such claims so blatantly. When you really get down to the details and ask, “Okay, so we agree that most variants don’t matter at all. You say that some do very much matter. What is ONE example of variant that radically changes the NT picture of Jesus?”

    No answer, because no such example exists.

    That’s not scholarship. It’s sensationalism, and it cheapens the actual scholarship he does do quite a lot and diminishes his otherwise valid (and important) arguments, such as the role of women in the Church.”

    I would be interested in how you would respond to this criticism, especially after I have been very vocal to point out the fact that you are indeed very clear on the issues that the majority of the variants are not significant.

    2. The sheep and the goats passage of Jesus teaching in Matthew is at odds (along with other passages) with Paul’s “Saved by Grace via Faith/Belief” theology. Jesus often did teach a message that was very heavy in correct and proper behavior in living a Godly life and yet Paul’s theology (or those who interpret Paul’s theology) often stresses the unearned free gift of Salvation via Faith/belief which which renders Christianity with a double and conflicting message. This dichotomy seems to have created a large gap in Evangelical and Fundamentalist camps which seems to down play any behavioral requirements for Salvation and replaces it with an almost Hyper-Protestantism which places much greater emphasis on Salvation via faith.

    If my assessment is accurate, is this divide a relatively new development or an issue that existed even within the early Church?

    • Bart
      Bart  December 5, 2016

      It would take a long set of posts to deal with your questioner’s points. I’ve dealt with all of them over the years on the blog, but in no one place. Among the Gospels, John *is* the only one that explicitly has Jesus declare he is not just the son of God but actually God in some sense. And no, I do not at all think Luke (or Acts) has a doctrine of atonement. If your questioner really wants to see the evidence, s/he needs to read my scholarly work, especially The Orthodox Corruptoin of Scripture, where I argue such points at length. That too is where I deal with textual variants that very much matter for understanding both what the authors of the NT say about Jesus and what the earliest Christians did. Some of these variants are highly significant, as any textual scholar will say.

    • talmoore
      talmoore  December 5, 2016

      I highly, highly, HIGHLY doubt that Jesus preached some kind of sola fide salvation a la Reformation Protestantism. Such a notion is most likely a post-Crucifixion confabulation. The most likely scenario is that Jesus, being very much a Jewish prophet, made salvation dependent on distinguishing oneself as a Tzaddiqi (i.e. Righteous person), as distinct from a Ra’ashi (i.e. Wicked person), and that to turn oneself from the latter into the former one must Tshuvah (i.e. “repent” or turn back [to God]). And the way one was to “repent” or turn back to God, in all likelihood, involved one or more of the following actions:

      A) Reject any and all gods and laws other than the God of Israel (YHWH) and His precepts (the Torah). In other words, no pagan gods or idols, no pagan laws or norms, nor pagan cultural or materal contamination. Only God and only his Ways. Act like a Jew and not like a Gentile.

      B) Show your worthiness to be saved by the God of Israel by actively defending and/or liberating the people and the land of Israel — God’s people and God’s land. (This leans more towards a proto-Zealot attitude, which was fostered in Galilee.)

      C) Outwardly express, through speech and behavior, that you are and will be on the side of God and His Heavenly Host when He brings His wrath and His judgment in the impending Day of God and His World-to-come (the so-called “Kingdom”). In other words, make clear your undying loyalty and service to God, His people and His coming Kingdom. (Think of this like a combination of reaffirming the brith, or covenant, and further supplication for God’s rachamah, or mercy, via prayer and other actions.)

      At least one or more of these requirements was probably the core of Jesus’ message and no more.

      • talmoore
        talmoore  December 6, 2016

        Just noticed I misspelled Rasha’i.

  2. anthonygale  December 4, 2016

    If Jesus actually said that the goats are to receive an eternal fiery punishment, does this mean he believed in a hell? If you don’t believe he meant this, then what do you make of it? A metaphor? Later textual corruption? Something else?

    • Bart
      Bart  December 5, 2016

      That’s a question I’m trying hard to figure out just now. I’ve usually thought he meant it literally.

      • anthonygale  December 5, 2016

        Would Jesus believing in hell impact your opinion about the development of dualism in Christianity or apocalyptic thinking in general? I’ve read your discussions about the horizontal dualism of apocalypticism shifting to a vertical one, decades later after people realized the end wasn’t coming. Perhaps I misunderstood, but I always thought the concept of hell was thought to be part of the later development.

        • Bart
          Bart  December 7, 2016

          Yes, that is the issue I’m working on and thinking about now. I’ll be posting on what I end up concluding (but it’ll be awhile: months I should think)

        • tompicard
          tompicard  December 8, 2016

          there appears tension between the vertical and horizontal dualism.

          Horizontal Dualism
          described in Nov 20 post.
          Old Age prior to apocalypse vs. New Age after.
          Jesus appears to be preaching this type of dualism in Mt 4:17 (proclaiming the kingdom of heaven at hand)
          here ‘heaven’ is expected to be experienced on the earth.
          Does that mean that prior to the apocalypse the world is kingdom of hell?

          Vertical Dualism
          this heaven vs. hell either
          a) one’s spirit enters when one’s physical body expires – common christian understanding, or
          b) when son of man comes here on earth and divides the population (and resurrected dead) in goat/sheep categories
          this appears to be his (Jesus) message in Mt 25.

          Dr Ehrman,
          Is this the issue to be resolved [which did Jesus teach]?

          • Bart
            Bart  December 9, 2016

            My sense is that the judgment of the Son of Man is an element of horizontal dualism. And yes, the question is how Christians moved from one to the other.

          • tompicard
            tompicard  December 9, 2016

            so is the eternal fiery punishment that the goats experience would be on the earth?

            And Jesus meant that literally not metaphorically?

          • Bart
            Bart  December 10, 2016

            After forty years thinking about this, I’m trying to decide!!

      • HistoricalChristianity  December 8, 2016

        As I understand it, all the early apocalypticists thought the evil people would just be taken somewhere else on earth to be punished, just as the righteous people would stay on earth to be rewarded in the post-apocalypse reversal of fortunes. In this case, eternal or forever meant indefinitely. Only in very late first century, when it became obvious that it didn’t happen, did people spiritualize it by saying either that it was somehow already here (like Luke), or that it would happen in an afterlife. For the dead, it was a resurrection (to life on earth), not an afterlife. Thus, death would not prevent you from receiving the punishment (or reward) that you were due.

    • talmoore
      talmoore  December 5, 2016

      My opinion (and I must make it clear that Bart is the expert here and not me) is that Jesus almost certainly believed in and preached about Hell (or as he probably called it, Gehinnom or Gehenna), where all the “wicked” will be obliterated by fire. Why do I think that? Because almost certainly the Jews Jesus preached to believed this, and I can’t see any reason why Jesus would not give his fellow Jews the apocalyptic message they desired to hear, namely, the destruction of all their Gentile enemies and treasonous fellow Jews, and the salvation of “the good guys”. This is such a common wish among human beings in general that we find it in every human culture on earth. It’s a human universal. So much so that it would be very odd indeed to find that Jesus was the one exception.

    • godspell  December 5, 2016

      We don’t have Jesus’ exact words–even though it’s very likely he said some version of this, we can’t be at all certain Matthew is quoting him correctly. My own opinion is that hell is an idea that developed in the Christian community. They could not fight back physically against those who disagreed with or persecuted them. This can lead to passive aggression sometimes. “You’ll be sorry someday.”

      And to what extent is he talking about death here? The Kingdom of Heaven isn’t some celestial realm–it’s this world, transformed by God. So maybe he’s just saying that the goats don’t get to enter the Kingdom. And as it became clear the Kingdom as Jesus described it wasn’t happening, the message got tweaked.

      • talmoore
        talmoore  December 7, 2016

        godspell, while I can understand why this is such a common, desirous view of Jesus, I must say that I find it extremely difficult to reconstruct such a kumbaya Jesus given the sources, historical context and basic human psychology.

        Just consider for a second the core message behind the gospels themselves, namely, “salvation”. Salvation from what? What is Jesus warning people that they need to get saved from? A slap on the wrist? A stern tongue-lashing? A giant wagging finger in the sky? Why the dire urgency? Why the relentless metaphors of separating goats from sheep, wheat from chaff, crops from weeds, vigilant bridesmaids from sleeping bridesmaids, light from darkness, etc.? The very backbone of the gospel message is that turning to God and Jesus is the single most important thing a person can do to save themselves. From what?!

        Because the alternative is the single most devastating thing a person can do. A person who rejects Jesus, rejects God. And a person who rejects God, is not saved. What are they not saved from? They are not saved from condemnation. They are not saved from damnation. They are not saved from oblivion. Whether we call that Hell or not is irrelevent. By any standards, it’s Hell!

        So not only do I think Jesus talked about Hell (Gehenna), I think admonitions about Hell were at the very core of Jesus’ message. You can either inherit “The Kingdom” and eternal paradise, or you can inherit the conflagration and oblivion. You must choose now, now, now!

  3. godspell  December 4, 2016

    My problem with the passage is that I dislike the idea of infinite punishment for very finite deeds (or really, in this case, the lack of deeds, the failure to act charitably, the absence of good works). But the idea that everyone you meet across the course of your life might be some divine spirit putting your compassion to the test–incredibly powerful. Treat everyone as if he or she was some great cosmic dignitary in mortal guise. Because the divine rests inside all of us, no matter how hard that may be to discern in most of us (and truly, it is very hard indeed to discern sometimes–no easy thing Jesus is asking of us here).

    Okay, but now I suddenly realize Jesus is saying the Son of Man will be passing this judgment, and we have good reason to think Jesus did not believe he himself was the Son of Man. Jesus did not believe he himself was any more divine than anyone else–he had simply been chosen to deliver a message on behalf of the divine spirit. Any powers he believed himself to have, he believed any mortal being could have, if he or she had sufficient faith.

    For him to say “I will someday sit in judgment of all of you, and will judge you on the basis of whether you paid proper homage to me in life” would be exalting himself. He who exalts himself shall be humbled. And God the Father is too distant and impersonal a figure to choose for this ethical lesson he is teaching here. So he chooses the Son of Man, who he believes will come in the near future to judge all humankind, and establish the Kingdom of God on earth. He himself has to behave as if everyone he meets in life might be the Son of Man, testing his compassion, his devotion to the Golden Rule.

    But of course this interpretation rests on the assumption that this is precisely what Jesus told his disciples–his exact words. Over time, it came to be assumed that Jesus himself was the Son of Man. So maybe this is an imperfect transcription of what he was saying. In either event, his general meaning is clear. Try to look at every person you meet–no matter how unpleasant–and think “Thou art God. How may I serve you?”

    Easy, right?

    Still, we could try harder.

  4. heccubus  December 4, 2016

    So would this be an example of the ‘Criterion of Embarrassment’ as it would seem to contradict the extant Christian doctrine of the author’s time?

    • Bart
      Bart  December 5, 2016

      I usually prefer to call it the Criterion of Dissimilarity.

      • Luke9733  January 7, 2017

        I have a question about the Criterion of Dissimilarity. I’ve read in some places that for a detail to pass, it needs to be *both* dissimilar from Judaism that preceded Jesus and from Christian theological interests that came afterwards. But then I’ve read other explanations that don’t include the need for the detail to be dissimilar from Judaism. What’s your view on this?

        • Bart
          Bart  January 8, 2017

          That was the original formulation of the criterion, but I’ve never found it logical. The reason for removing from consideration traditions that coincide closely with Christian views is that these traditions may just as well have been invented by Christians who passed them along, whereas traditions contrary to what Christians would have wanted to say would not have been. That logic simply doesn’t apply to traditoins that seem to coincide with what we find in non-Christian (Jewish) sources.

          • HistoricalChristianity  January 9, 2017

            I think the entire criterion is only slightly useful, excessively applied, and misapplied. To demand that an authentic saying of Jesus differ from Judaism is completely incorrect. The synoptic authors portray Jesus as a sage of Second Temple Judaism. The most natural thing to expect is that the authors would show him saying the kinds of things his peers would be saying. And that’s precisely what we find. Except for divorce, the sayings could well be the sayings of Hillel. If, as I expect, the authors had no access to records of anything he said, they would harvest sayings of Hillel and his peers and portray Jesus talking about these things.

            Also, if a candidate saying was something that the proto-orthodox wouldn’t want to propagate, then perhaps it was invented by some other branch like Ebionites.

            The starting question should be what message was the gospel author conveying by writing a particular saying into his narrative. They wrote stories to show what they believed their protagonist to be like. The ancient bios genre had no requirement or expectation that the stories were true, just that they showed what he was like.

  5. Foxtank  December 4, 2016

    In this first question, the “attacker” is using an ad hominem approach, never to be trusted. And then we see he is basically math challenged.

  6. twiskus  December 4, 2016

    In your response about many of the surviving copies of the NT being centuries later, I believe I heard in a debate (but can’t find, hence my question) you say that something like 90% of the surviving Greek manuscripts were from the 9th century. Does that sound accurate?

    • Bart
      Bart  December 5, 2016

      Close. 94% of our surviving Greek mss come from the 9th century or later.

      • Mark57  January 2, 2017

        I’m not sure I understand. Do you mean 94% of the NT has no older copies than 9th C. or just Greek? Sorry, I’m new here.

        • Bart
          Bart  January 2, 2017

          No, I mean that 94% of the copies of the NT (either full copies or fragments) date after the 9th century. The entire NT is attested in copies earlier than that.

        • Mark57  January 4, 2017

          I think I need a flow chart of what happened when. lol Codex Sinaitius?, Garima Gospels? As a layman I’m getting a headache trying to figure out how to untangle the mess. Thanks Dr. Ehrman.

          • Bart
            Bart  January 5, 2017

            Sinaiticus is mid-fourth century CE. The Garima Gospels are at least a century, or much more, after that.

  7. mjt  December 4, 2016

    Apologists claim that Matthew 25 is just being descriptive; that is, it just generally describes how Christians will treat others. Is there any way to make that argument work?

    • Bart
      Bart  December 5, 2016

      I’m not sure I understand…. Descriptive as opposed to what?

      • mjt  December 5, 2016

        Some apologists would say that the acts of kindness in Matthew 25, in general, describe how Christians behave. They are claiming that Jesus is NOT saying “Do good works and get into heaven”; rather he’s saying “Christians, for the most part, will be the ones who helped people in need.”

        • SBrudney091941
          SBrudney091941  December 7, 2016

          1. Jesus wouldn’t have known what a Christian was.
          2. Helping people in need might not distinguish a Christian much from a non-Christian.

  8. paul c  December 4, 2016

    Dr. Ehrman, I read the first question several times and I have no idea what the writer was trying to say.
    Some of my readings in grad school could be like that. Recollections of the comedian Prof. Irwin Corey would come to mind.

  9. tcasto  December 4, 2016

    Dr. Ehrman, every time I read one of your posts, I gain new insight into my personal spiritual journey. While I was never much of a believer in the Bible, I became, with the help of you and other rational critics, very antagonistic to the Bible. Especially with the refusal of the true believers to even try to understand the origins of their faith. I think I’m now at a point where I’m trying to be more positive in taking the best of the Christian faith without accepting the supernatural (ie an all knowing god who has a life plan for each of us). Thank you for that.

    As to the criticism levied against you regarding the propagation of errors in the texts, I think the author is simply (or deliberately) misunderstanding how information is transmitted. Whether linear or geometric, errors in replication can occur. As to the “deliberately deceive”, it reeks of the ad hominem style of debate we’ve seen too much of this season.

    Finally, the criterion might be better stated as “original” vice “authentic”.

  10. Todd  December 4, 2016

    Well said !

  11. Wilusa  December 4, 2016

    About the first question: I agree that the “attack against you” doesn’t make sense. But your response, with words like “this person,” seems to suggest that you think *the person who submitted the question* is the one who holds these strange views. Which doesn’t seem to be the case!

    About the second: Isn’t it possible that there were different stories and traditions handed down, by people who *wanted to believe* different things, with *none* of them necessarily going back to actual sayings of the historical Jesus? (If so, of course, the “salvation by faith” notion was the one that won out.) Though I do acknowledge that Gospel authors could pick and choose what they included…

  12. talmoore
    talmoore  December 4, 2016

    Dr. Ehrman, I suspect that the person who’s accusing you of “deception” is a fundamentalist who is using “deception” as a euphemism for “working for Satan”. Satan is, after all, the Great Deceiver, no?

  13. ZekePiestrup
    ZekePiestrup  December 4, 2016

    Matthew 25:31-46 encapsulates the great teachings of love? Yeah, if you’re a sheep. How do you think the goats felt? How does eternal punishment mesh with love?

    • Bart
      Bart  December 5, 2016

      I suppose they’re feeling like they should have helped those poor suckers….

      • HistoricalChristianity  December 8, 2016

        That’s the modern Christian motivation for evangelism. Save these people from a fate worse than death. But that motivation isn’t new. The students of Hillel chose to reach out to the sinners (non-practicing Jews), persuading them to repent and become practicing Jews. But the benefit was not to them as individuals. Under the Mosaic Covenant, the benefit was to all Israel, by causing God to stop cursing Israel for disobedience, and resume blessing Israel for obedience. The students of Shammai preferred to stay isolated from the defiling influence of sinners.

  14. Robert  December 4, 2016

    I don’t understand the expression “the end of time”. As I understand it, the apocalyptic view was that God would overthrow the forces of evil and set up a kingdom here on earth. Surely time would continue as before. So who was calling it the “end of time” and why were they saying it?

    • Bart
      Bart  December 5, 2016

      Yes, “end of time” is just a shorthand for “end of history as we know it.” Apocalypticists talked about “end of the age” — which means the same thing.

      • HistoricalChristianity  December 8, 2016

        More specifically, the end of the age where evil people could get away with being evil and causing harm to the righteous people, stealing the rewards rightfully belonging to the righteous. I’m sure some people thought there would be no more death, but I don’t think that was ever a majority view until the ideas of an afterlife (incorporating Platonic dualism) from the second century onward.

  15. clipper9422@yahoo.com  December 4, 2016

    Why would the Gospel writer (and redactors?) retain something that so clearly contradicted the beliefs of the early Christians? In general, if the Gospel writers and redactors often enough edited their material to conform to current beliefs how did anything that contradicted their beliefs survive – except maybe those contradictions that were not clearly apparent?

    • Bart
      Bart  December 5, 2016

      My sense is that htese kinds of tensions are not clear at all. Most readers of Matthew have never realized the “clear contradiction”!

  16. wje  December 4, 2016

    Good evening, Bart. Since you are posting about authenticity I have a question or three for you. When you do research for your books have you ever come across correspondence between the early church fathers about what should be put in the bible with regards to stories about Jesus birth and life. Have you read first hand accounts about early theologians questioning or debating the same problems about inerrancy that you bring up today? How did the people who put the bible together not know about all the contradictions?

    • Bart
      Bart  December 5, 2016

      No there were no discussions about which stories to include in the Bible, only which books should be included. Inerrancy is a modern phenomenon, starting in the 19th century. Most people in antiquity, like most today, never saw the contradictions.

  17. clipper9422@yahoo.com  December 4, 2016

    I know you have good reasons for saying that Jesus and the Son of Man are two distinct figures. That’s probably one big reason why people didn’t recognize the Son of Man in those who needed aid. They might have recognized the figure if it had been Jesus.

    But what is the significance of coming or not coming to the aid of the Son of Man? There’s some logic to it being a big deal whether people come to the aid of Jesus. After all he’s the messiah/son of God/savior/member of the trinity/etc. Big mistake not coming to his aid. But the Son of Man seems like a somewhat obscure figure – though of course extremely important in bringing about the kingdom of God. But the story seems to lose a lot of its point and impact if it’s simply the son of Man who’s not recognized. Maybe it’s simply because I was taught that Jesus and the Son of Man were the same and haven’t absorbed the importance of them being separate figures.

    • clipper9422@yahoo.com  December 5, 2016

      I suppose the importance of the Son of Man is that he is the judge at the end of the world. He separates sheep and goats based on whether they came to his, the Son of Man’s, aid. So in this sense the Son of Man has a direct interest in whether people came to his aid. People’s responses to his neediness could leave hm with benign or angry feelings toward them.

      But something still seems to be missing if it’s the Son of Man rather than Jesus whom people help or ignore.

      I’ve also read, maybe in Geza Vermes, that the term “son of man” sometimes just means “the human being.” It’s a roundabout way of referring to human beings. When the Gospels have Jesus refer to himself as the Son of Man, it may sometimes just be a way of referring to himself in the third rather than the first person.

      So instead of – or in addition to – the sheep and goats story referring to whether people came to the aid of the Son of Man, the story simply refers to whether they came to the aid of human beings in general? But then why is recognition an issue? Surely people recognize other human beings as such when they see them. Maybe, like the Good Samaritan, it’s a matter of recognizing those outside one’s own tribe as fully human beings the same as oneself? (I think I got this idea from Spong.)

      • Bart
        Bart  December 5, 2016

        Yes, it’s very difficult to figure out. I’m not sure what Vermes would say about the passage!

      • HistoricalChristianity  December 8, 2016

        You’re correct. The point of the sheep/goats parable is that when a Jew treats other Jews nicely (or badly), God takes it personally, and will use it as a decision criterion for whether an individual takes the evil path (punishment) or the righteous path (reward). And yes, this is part of the very long transition from purely corporate consequences (to all Israel, per the Mosaic Covenant) to individual consequences.

        A prophet would often refer to himself as son of man, to distinguish himself from God. A prophet acted as an agent of God only to the very limited extent of conveying a specific message. With the ‘one like a son of man’ in Daniel, a (possibly human) agent would also act as an agent of judgment. As Dr. Ehrman notes elsewhere, gospel texts show Jesus using a son of man phrase in two ways. First, just as an OT prophet, to refer to himself. Second, as an apocalypticist, to refer to an agent of judgment. Sometimes a phrase, just like a word, derives its meaning from its context. In this case, I attribute the dichotomy to lazy carelessness. Daniel’s more precise ‘one like a son of man’ became shortened to an ambiguous ‘son of man’.

    • Bart
      Bart  December 5, 2016

      I agree — it can be pretty confusing once you start digging down into it.

  18. dragonfly  December 5, 2016

    I can’t make head nor tail of the first question. Do some people think the problems that arise in the textual tradition of the NT are somehow threatening to their faith? That’s ridiculous.

  19. XanderKastan  December 5, 2016

    About the more variations “giving birth to less authenticity”, I think the complaint is that of course there are going to be more variations the more copies you have. Say for example we have only one copy of something written by Julius Caesar made 500 years after the original. There are zero differences among the copies. If we had more copies we’d have variations, but we would also have more to work with in trying to reconstruct the original. I have read and heard you say on more than one occasion that textual criticism is relevant to all ancient manuscripts and that the situation with books of the New Testament is much better than for ancient texts in general. But I think the people making this complaint see it as a matter of emphasis. Most people are as unaware of the issue of textual criticism with secular ancient manuscripts as they are of the same issue with the Bible. So these fundamentalists want you to always emphasize that more copies is actually better than fewer and that with more copies, you can expect there to be more differences. Again, I think you have been very clear on this, so I don’t mean this as a criticism of you or the way you present information, which I actually really appreciate.

  20. dragonfly  December 5, 2016

    In regards to the second question, weren’t there some Christians who thought doing good was also required for salvation, and Paul was quite irate about them? Couldn’t they have made up the story?

    • Bart
      Bart  December 5, 2016

      Not quite: Paul was irate with those who thought followers of Jesus had to keep the Jewish law (and thus become Jewish)

      • jdmartin21  December 5, 2016

        Isn’t there some indication that in addition to faith through grace, Paul also thought that people needed to do good works (as opposed to works of the law)? Isn’t that what he is getting at in 2 Corinthians 5:10 when he refers to what has been done in the body?

        • Bart
          Bart  December 7, 2016

          My sense is that Paul thought that someone who had faith *would* do good works, not that they *had to* do good works.

          • SBrudney091941
            SBrudney091941  December 7, 2016

            Bart, how would you distinguish good works and works of the law?

          • Bart
            Bart  December 8, 2016

            Works of the law include doing things that make Jews Jewish (circumcision; sabbath observance; kashrut; festivals; etc.) that have no relation to ethical behavior toward other people (“good works”)

  21. peterstone  December 5, 2016

    Thank you for this. Do you think the “Chinese Whispers” analogy is more apt when applied to the process whereby the Gospels were originally written down? As I understand it, the stories in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John (not to mention the Gospels that didn’t make it into the NT) were passed along orally for decades before anyone got around to writing them down. (And somewhere along the line they made the transition from Aramaic to Greek.) Would the analogy apply there?

    • Bart
      Bart  December 5, 2016

      Yes, I deal with that issue in my book Jesus Before the Gospels.

  22. jmmarine1  December 5, 2016

    I once sat through a discussion with someone who tried to tell me what Bart Ehrman was ‘really doing’ with his books and blog. I assured my friend that, though Christian people believed themselves strapped on to the electric chair (due to abortion and gay rights; not sure why they take these measures personally), Prof. Ehrman was not Percy Wetmore whispering into their ear that there is no mouse city; the carefully developed myth on the ultimate destiny of Mr. Jingles. Boss Edgecomb and Boss Howell were simply trying to ease Del’s mind in his last days and there is Percy making sure that he does not even have that slim hope. By contrast, I see the Christian Church going the way of the other great Sunday institution, the NFL; both are collapsing under the weight of scientific investigation as well as from the wounded who were forced out of each. It is not Dr. Omalu’s fault if his x-ray evidence shows that something deep and mostly undetected is going on, he is simply pointing out the evidence, he is not creating it. If NFL doctors want to deny the veracity of the x-ray evidence, it is done so due to ideology (and cash) and not science.

  23. Tempo1936  December 5, 2016

    What a ridiculous claim. After listening to several debates on YouTube , which I recommend highly, your communication skills are witty and educational.
    I do have a question. Your argument is that After the resurrection disciples came to believe Jesus was divine. Overtime The Start of Jesus’ divinity was pushed back to the baptism and then to his birth in Matthew and Luke. By 325 The Council of Nicaea Concluded Jesus was always God and created everything.
    However the earliest fragment of John dated to the early first century may also argue Jesus was an all powerful co equal since that’s in John 1
    So Didn’t some Christians believe that Jesus was co-equal to God very early, maybe after the resurrection?

    • Bart
      Bart  December 5, 2016

      We don’t have any fragments of John that early. The earliest is P52 which *may* be from the early second century, but it does not contain any sayings of Jesus claiming to be equal with God (it’s only a few verses from the trial before Pilate)

  24. clipper9422@yahoo.com  December 5, 2016

    I’ve probably used up my quota of comments/questions for this post, but somewhere I’ve gotten the idea that the real point – or an equally important point – of the Good Samaritan parable is not so much the importance of helping those in need but of recognizing that those who come to the aid of others are one’s neighbors even if they belong to a different tribe. The parable starts off with the question “who is my neighbor?”. After Jesus tells how a Samaritan helps a person in need after his fellow Jews pass him by, Jesus asks “who was neighbor” to the man in need? I’ve traditionally thought the point was that a neighbor is anyone who is in need. But Jesus says it was the one who gave the aid, the Samaritan, who was the neighbor. Maybe the point – or an equally important point – is to help Jews overcome their prejudice against Samaritans by showing that the latter can help the former. Or maybe all those who help those in need will be neighbors in the kingdom of God.

    • Bart
      Bart  December 5, 2016

      I think the parable makes *both* points.

    • HistoricalChristianity  December 8, 2016

      To understand the parable of the good Samaritan requires a little bit of knowledge. Samaritans were descendants of the Jews left behind at the Babylonian captivity. They considered only Torah to be sacred, since the rest of Tanakh had not yet been written. The students of Shammai refused to even associate with Samaritans, considering them inferior. The students of Hillel chose instead to reach out to Samaritans (and even to sinners), hoping to persuade them to choose the practices of the Jews returning from Diaspora.

      In its earliest usage, neighbor always referred only to a fellow Israelite. Jesus (as a student largely of Hillel) wanted to extend neighbor to include the Samaritans. After all, the Samaritans were still Jews, just with some different practices. Not until Paul did anyone suggest extending neighbor to include Gentiles. Paul was a builder of empire. He worked to extend the scope of social cohesion across the whole Roman Empire.

  25. jhague  December 5, 2016

    Does the sheep and goat story also relate to Jews (sheep) vs. Gentiles (goats)?

    • Bart
      Bart  December 5, 2016

      I don’t think so: it’ is “all the nations of earth,” and they aren’t divided by ethnicity.

      • jhague  December 5, 2016

        If these words go back to Jesus, wasn’t his message just for Jews, not all the nations of the earth?

        • Bart
          Bart  December 7, 2016

          My sense is that Jesus taught only Jews. But he may well have taught Jews about non-Jews.

  26. wostraub  December 5, 2016

    Regarding the “attack” inquiry:

    You rarely if ever stray into political territory, Dr. Ehrman, but I fervently believe that we now live in a post-fact, post-truth world in which facts and scientific theories based on empirical evidence are seen as merely elitist opinions. Sure, your Excel spreadsheet might consistently say that 1+1=2, but there are those who believe that God can change that when he wants. Otherwise, how do you explain Jesus feeding the five thousand with a few loaves and fishes?

    While I enjoy your books because they make me think hard about problematic issues in the Bible, many believers view your work as attacks on their faith. As for your suggestion that they actually read and think about the issues you’ve written on, they may simply see that as an invitation to dance with the devil, even if what you say is true.

    You may never win over many people of faith, but I urge you to keep up the good fight!

  27. probablynot  December 5, 2016

    I’m a little surprised with your conclusion that the sheep/goats passage is wonderful and encapsulates the great teachings about love. I guess it depends on what a person sees as the main takeaway from the story. If the main takeaway is “be nice to everyone, especially the less fortunate than you,” then I can agree. But personally I can’t see how the main takeaway isn’t “or else me or my dad will kill you horribly forever,” and that is, in my view, the single most awful concept found in the New Testament.

    • Bart
      Bart  December 5, 2016

      Yeah, I’m not big on the fiery torment for ever side either….

    • dankoh  December 6, 2016

      I think it depends on whether you choose the read the passage positively, as in, this is what is good, or negatively, as in, this is what will happen to you if you don’t do as I say. Is it an exhortation or a threat?

      That’s a personal take. Historically, I don’t think the idea of eternal punishment was quite fixed at that time; there are hints of it, but it doesn’t seem to be settled doctrine just yet.

      • probablynot  December 7, 2016

        If it’s meant as an exhortation, though, why not just say those who do good will get a reward and those who don’t won’t get the reward? That, to me, is the way to make it clearly not a threat.

        • HistoricalChristianity  December 8, 2016

          It’s more consolation than exhortation. People really liked the idea that the people who have been abusing them will finally get the punishment they so richly deserve.

  28. TWood
    TWood  December 5, 2016

    1. Do you think Paul was aware of the sheep and goats parable?

    2. If Paul was aware of it (whether he actually was or not), do you think he would reject such a teaching as judaizing, and maybe hope those who follow it cut off their penises on accident?

    3. Have you ever written a book/paper that categorizes which statements you think are authentically Jesus’ (and which ones you think are theologically constructed by his followers)? Almost like adding a new color to the letters (keep the red letters to the statements attributed to Jesus, but then add blue letters to the statements you think he actually said). That’d be very interesting/enlightening I think. If you haven’t written on it, do you know of a legit scholar who has?

    • Bart
      Bart  December 7, 2016

      1. No. 2. No. 3. Not a list as such; but it’s the topic of my book Jesus: Apocalytpic Prophet of the New Millennium.

  29. alvinstoll  December 5, 2016

    Dr. Ehrman: Since the New Testament manuscripts we have for the most part were made several hundred years after the originals, they were, as you say, “copies of copies of copies, etc.” However, the number of copies separating the original from the surviving manuscripts would necessarily depend on how long each manuscript was used. If the usual life span was 10 years, there would be many more copies than if each manuscript lasted for, say, 50 years. What basis do we have for assumptions regarding the time between each successive copying?

    I am a recent subscriber to this blog, so if you have already answered this question, my apologies.

    • Bart
      Bart  December 7, 2016

      Yes, I’m afraid that in most cases it is impossible to know the age of a copy’s exemplar. It would help a lot if we *could* know!

  30. cheito
    cheito  December 5, 2016

    DR Ehrman:

    Your Comment:

    So far as we know, none of these copies was made from the originals or from a copy of the originals or from a copy of the copy of the originals. They were all made much later from other copies.

    My Comment:

    Among the dead sea scrolls found, One of the Isaiah Scrolls, found relatively intact, is 1000 years older than any previously known copy of Isaiah. This copy of Isaiah contains many minor differences from the later Masoretic text (the text which forms the basis of the modern Hebrew Bible). Most of the differences are simply grammatical (for example, spelling certain words with an extra letter that does not alter the pronunciation)

    Apparently the scribes who copied the Isaiah scrolls were very careful. For over 1000 years there were no major variations from the later Masoretic texts.

    My point is that when you say that the copies we have of the new testament were not made from the originals nor from a copy of the originals or from a copy of the copy of the originals you’re only speculating. If you haven’t seen an original how could you know this?

    I guess the only way to know for certain is that there would be a major discovery, of lets say, an entire scroll of the gospel of John dating back to the first century. I pray that will happen… And I pray it will happen so that you may witness it..

    • HistoricalChristianity  December 8, 2016

      Tanakh was already considered sacred scripture and was meticulously copied. It was decades before Paul’s writings achieved that status. Even longer before anyone else’s writings achieved that status, including writings claimed to be by Paul or assumed to be by Paul (like Hebrews).

      Paul’s writings were a textual body much smaller than Tanakh. Any particular copy would be more heavily used than a particular copy of a particular text of Tanakh. Papyrus was more fragile than paper, or even parchment.

  31. Rick
    Rick  December 5, 2016

    Is it assumed that the sheep are Jewish sheep in order to fulfill the first of the two great commandments, or do gentiles get a pass here?

  32. RonaldTaska  December 6, 2016

    I think some of your critics illustrate the Dunning-Kruger Effect where the less one knows about a subject, the more one thinks he/she knows about the subject.

  33. SBrudney091941
    SBrudney091941  December 6, 2016

    Bart, Jesus’ teachings in Matthew 25:31-46 above and Luke 10:25-37 (in which an attorney asks Jesus what he must do to get into Heaven) are alike in that, in both, Jesus does not even suggest that belief in him was required. But, then, how could he have? How could Jesus, during his life, before his death, tell others that they must believe in the salvific power of his death and resurrection? Do you think that some New Testament writers understood that this is what Jesus would have taught and others felt they needed Jesus to teach belief in him?

    • Bart
      Bart  December 7, 2016

      Well, in the Gospel of John Jesus tells people to believe in him.

  34. Theonedue  December 26, 2016

    When Paul states that he believes that salvation through Jesus is by grace through faith and that not of yourselves, does he mean that grace and faith are solely a gift from God, or just the grace is from him (from the Greek texts)?

    Does he mean works of the law only, or the 10 commandments?

    When Jesus says “No one can come to me unless the Father draw him first” do you think he had something supernatural in mind (i.e supernatural drawing) or does, as a couple of Christians stated, the drawing entail reading or hearing words from the Old Testament (they found a text in the O.T that said something about God drawing people with his word)?

    • Bart
      Bart  December 27, 2016

      1. I think you’re referring to Ephesiahs 2:8-10; I don’t think Paul wrote that letter. But in any event, the author thinks that faith is a gift from God, not something the believer musters for him/herself. (Grace by definition is given by another) This author is not referring to the works of the law at all, but to doing good deeds.
      2. Yes, in John’s Gospel God has the initiative and draws people to himself (probably not just through the OT)

    • HistoricalChristianity  December 27, 2016

      The author of John (in 6:44) is expressing Gnostic philosophy. You can’t become a Christian unless God imparts special knowledge directly to you. Thus, by definition, you can’t do it yourself. No text of any kind was involved.

      The growth (and I think the origin) of earliest Christianity was in Greek thought, not Jewish. For them, Jewish law was irrelevant.

  35. TWood
    TWood  January 14, 2017

    This question is off topic, but it’s the first one that came up after I searched for a relevant term in my question (cursing)… I’ve heard people say Paul “cussed” (apart from what he implies in Galatians with hs wish his enemies cut off their “members”… when he said the following:

    1. “I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ…” Is rubbish (dung) equivalent to “crap” or even “shit?”

    2. When Paul says “God forbid” in Romans, is he saying something like “hell no!”?

    3. Extra one if you will… is 1 Kings 12:10 referring to what it sounds like?

    Any other passages that come to mind that are relevant would be great to hear too…

    • Bart
      Bart  January 14, 2017

      1. Yes 2. He doesn’t use a cuss word. It is the word for “become/be” and it simply expresses a negative wish “May it never be”

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