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Is Acts Reliable? The Negative Rebuttal

What follows is the “negative rebuttal” of the speech given by the “first affirmative” in its support of the resolution, “Resolved: The Book of Acts is Historically Reliable.”  If you need to refresh yourself on what the affirmative team argued, you can find it on the March 24 post, here:    In the first negative speech (yesterday’s post) the negative team argued its case, without direct reference to the affirmative side.  This, now, is the negative response to what the affirmative said (the next post in the thread will be the affirmative rebuttal to the negative side) (recall: this was a debate I staged with myself in front of my New Testament class earlier this semester.  I didn't read this speech: I winged it.  But this is the essence of what I argued, on the negative side against the affirmative) *************************************************************** If you choose to go point by point through the affirmative team’s case that the book of Acts is historically reliable, you will find that they have advanced their views on very thin grounds.   [...]

2020-04-17T13:19:01-04:00March 31st, 2016|Acts of the Apostles, Bart's Debates, Public Forum|

Is the Book of Acts Historically Reliable? The Negative Case.

This post will lay out the Negative case, arguing against the resolution, Resolved: The Book of Acts if Historically Reliable.   Again, I am not necessarily agreeing or disagreeing with this argument; I’m giving it as I would in a debate. ********************************************************** The New Testament book of Acts is not historically reliable.  Before showing that to be the case, I want to make two preliminary remarks, both of them related to the question of what it means for an ostensibly historical account (a narrative of what allegedly happened in the past) to be reliable. First, when readers today want to know whether the book of Acts is reliable, they mean that they want to know whether the events that it narrates actually happened in the way it describes.  Or not.  Readers are not primarily interested in knowing if he wrote his account the way other authors in his day would have done.  They are mainly interested in knowing whether his narrative happened the way he says it did. Second, it is indeed important to know whether [...]

2020-04-17T13:18:23-04:00March 30th, 2016|Acts of the Apostles, Bart's Debates, Public Forum|

Is the Book of Acts Historically Reliable? Smoke and Mirrors.

In my next post I will be staking stake out the “negative” side on the debate I had with myself in class, arguing against the resolution, Resolved: The Book of Acts is Historically Reliable.  I have already made the affirmative case; in the negative I will argue that the book is not reliable (that first speech was a set speech, prepared without reference to anything the affirmative side said).  I will then give a negative refutation of the affirmative’s first speech, and I will end with an affirmative rebuttal of the negative’s two speeches. Before I do all that, however, I need to take a time-out and explain one negative counter-argument that would take too much space if it were simply part of a longer post laying out the negative position. The affirmative side in the debate argued that based on archaeological evidence Luke can be shown to have presented accurately the laws, custom, and geography mentioned or alluded to in the book of Acts:  there really was an Areopagus where philosophers gathered, as mentioned [...]

2020-04-17T13:17:53-04:00March 29th, 2016|Acts of the Apostles, Bart's Debates, Public Forum|

For Anyone Who Still Needs a Free Membership!

I'm happy to say that thanks to the incredible generosity of members of the blog, I am still able to provide a limited number of free one-year memberships available.   These have been donated for a single purpose: to allow those who cannot afford the annual membership fee to participate on the blog for a year.   I will assign these memberships strictly on the honor system: if you truly cannot afford the membership fee, but very much want to have full access to the blog, then please contact me.   Do NOT reply here, on the blog, as a comment.   Send me a separate email, privately, at [email protected].   In your email, let me know your situation (why you would like to take advantage of this offer) and provide me with the following information: 1)      Your first and last name. 2)      Your preferred personal email. 3)      Your preferred user name (no spaces). 4)      Your preferred password (should be 8 or more characters, no spaces).   The donors will remain anonymous, but here let me publicly extend my [...]

2016-03-28T22:00:11-04:00March 28th, 2016|Public Forum|

Bart Ehrman vs Tim McGrew – Round 2

Here is the second part of my on-radio debate with Christian apologist Timothy J. McGrew, which aired on the Unbelievable," a weekly program aired on UK Premier Christian Radio.  I recorded the interview from the station's London studio; McGrew was on the telephone.  In the discussion we address the question Do Undesigned Coincidences Confirm the Gospels?" We also debated whether historical research can ever validate miraculous conclusions, as we express differ views over accounts in the book of Acts. For McGrew's views on what he calls these Un-designed Coincidences, see He's also the author of The Foundations of Knowledge and Internalism and Epistemology. Please adjust gear icon for 1080p High-Definition:

2020-05-27T15:50:56-04:00March 26th, 2016|Acts of the Apostles, Bart's Debates, Video Media|

My Book Sales and the “Relatives” of Paul: Weekly Reader’s Mailbag March 25, 2016

For this week’s Readers Mailbag I have two questions, one about the sales of my new book and one about the apostle Paul (the meaning of a particularly important verse).  If you have a question you would like me to address, simply ask it here! ********************************************************* QUESTION: Are you pleased with how Jesus Before the Gospels is selling? The reviews are great. I'm enjoying reading it, myself.   RESPONSE: Thanks for asking!  Yes, there are some reviewers who seem to “get” what the book is, and who appreciate it.  I’m always grateful for that! Am I happy with the sales so far?  Unfortunately, the answer is “not really”!   I have to admit I’m a bit spoiled on the book sales front.  This is the seventh book I’ve published with HarperOne.   Of the other six, one was a book that none of us thought would be a huge sales success, Did Jesus Exist? (In fact, our original idea was to publish it simply as an e-book, because we knew it had such a limited market.  At [...]

Is Acts Historically Reliable? The Affirmative Argument

I am ready now to explain how I did the debate with myself in front of my undergraduate class on the resolution, Resolved: The Book of Acts is Historically Reliable. As always happens in a debate, the Affirmative side goes first and gives a prepared speech. In arguing for the affirmative, I made the following points. (Note: I’m not saying I personally agree with these points, just as I’m not going to be saying that I agreed with the Negative points. I’m simply making the best case I can for both positions.) THE REST OF THIS POST IS FOR MEMBERS ONLY. If you don't belong yet, JOIN! The Book of Acts is Historically Reliable, as can be seen by considering three major points First, the author of the book of Acts explicitly tells us that he was concerned and committed to present a historically accurate account of the history of the early church. The author of Acts, of course, was the author of the Gospel of Luke, and the preface to Luke served as [...]

2020-04-17T13:17:32-04:00March 24th, 2016|Acts of the Apostles, Paul and His Letters, Public Forum|

Major Themes in the Book of Acts

The debate over the historical accuracy of the book of Acts is important, in no small measure because – as I have pointed out already – it provides us our one and only narrative of what was happening among the followers of Jesus in the years immediately after his death.  This is the key, formative period in the formation of Christianity.  How did it start as a religion?  Acts is our only surviving historical account.  But is it an accurate history? The first thing to stress is that Acts – like all histories – is highly restrictive in what it talks about.   It is not a comprehensive history and makes no pretense of being a comprehensive history.   The title “The Acts of the Apostles” was given it by later readers and scribes.   The author himself (whoever he was) does not give it a title.   And this particular title is not particularly apt, for one very important reason: most of the apostles do not figure in the account at all.   This is a narrative of some [...]

2020-04-17T13:17:11-04:00March 23rd, 2016|Acts of the Apostles, Public Forum|

The Literary Artistry of the Book of Acts

I am in the middle of a thread dealing with the New Testament book of Acts, the first account that we have of the history of the Christian church at its very beginnings – starting with the events happening right after the resurrection of Jesus and covering the spread of the Christian faith through the Roman world up until the time Paul reached the city of Rome, presumably in the early 60s CE.   And so this is an account of the first three decades of Christianity.   It’s the only one we have of this period.   That’s one reason it is so important to know if it’s historically reliable or not – if it’s not, we have very restricted access to what was happening in these most critical years of the early Christian movement. Before I discuss the issue of Acts’ historically reliability (the subject of my debate with myself in front of my class two weeks ago), I need to provide a bit more background.   In my textbook on the New Testament I provide two [...]

2020-04-17T13:16:36-04:00March 22nd, 2016|Acts of the Apostles, Public Forum|

The Book of Acts: An Overview

Now that I have explained at some length how the debates work in my Introduction to the New Testament class, I can talk a bit about the debate that I staged in front of the class.   The class debates that the students themselves will participate in start next week – one a week for three weeks.   I’ve always thought that for students to see how a debate is supposed to work, they need to observe one in action.  So I like to have a debate in front of the entire class to give them an idea.  The problem is that most years (well, virtually every year) it is hard to find someone who is willing to debate me.  And so, I debate myself. The topic that I usually debate has to do with the NT book of Acts and whether it can be trusted to give a historically reliable account of the work of Paul and the other apostles after the death of Jesus.  The specific resolution is this:  “Resolved: The Book of Acts is [...]

2020-04-17T13:15:41-04:00March 21st, 2016|Acts of the Apostles|

Bart Ehrman vs Tim McGrew – Round 1

On Saturday 18th July 2015 I held a kind of radio debate with Timothy J. McGrew, a conservative Christian apologist and professor of Philosophy at Western Michigan University.  He's also the author of The Foundations of Knowledge and Internalism and Epistemology. It was a two-part back-and-forth on "Unbelievable," a weekly program hosted by Justin Brierley, which airs on UK Premier Christian Radio.  I taped the interview from the station's London studio. The debate was on the topic: Can We Trust the Gospels?" Here Part One. Please adjust gear icon for 1080p High-Definition:

2020-05-27T15:50:53-04:00March 19th, 2016|Bart's Debates, Canonical Gospels, Video Media|

Memory, Eyewitnesses, and the Relevance of Jesus: Readers Mailbag

In this week’s Readers’ Mailbag I will deal with three questions, all of them having to do with the historical Jesus:  how has memory studies affected my understanding of Jesus; whether the claim that the Gospels are based eyewitnesses is a new or an ancient attempt to “guarantee” their accuracy; and whether Jesus can be relevant today if his basic apocalyptic view was proven to be wrong. Good questions, all of them!  If you have any questions about anything involving the New Testament or the history and literature of Christianity in the first four centuries, let me know! *********************************************************** QUESTION:  Has your view of the historical Jesus changed at all after your studies into memory?   RESPONSE: My basic view of Jesus has not changed at all.  I continue to think that he was an apocalyptic preacher who proclaimed that he and his listeners were living at the end of the age and that God was (very) soon to intervene and overthrow the evil powers who were in charge of this world in order to [...]

Does the New Testament Condemn Modern Practices of Homosexuality?

The third in-class debate (for the other two, see my two preceding posts) is in some ways the most controversial of all, as it hits at the heart of a highly fraught topic today.   And yet the resolution may seem to some people to be undebatable – that the answer to it is obvious.  As it turns out, it isn’t.  The third resolution is this: Resolved:  The New Testament Condemns Modern Practices of Homosexuality Again, the wording of the resolution is meant to make students think about the very words being used.  What is “homosexuality”?  And what are “modern” practices?   If you define homosexuality as same-sex sexual relations, and you define modern practices as things like men having sex with men, then it seems that the answer would be fairly obvious: yes the New Testament does seem to condemn that sort of thing.  But, actually, it’s not that simple.  At all. There are tons of issues involved, which make this debate very complicated.   For one thing ... The Rest of this Post is for Members [...]

Were Paul’s Views of Women Oppressive?

In my post yesterday I discussed the first debate topic assigned to my undergraduate class on the New Testament, on the relationship of Paul and Jesus, and the question of whether they represented fundamentally the same religion or not.   Of all the debate topics that I assign, I think that one is the most central to the understanding of the New Testament and the history of Christianity, as it deals with the root of the very problem of Christianity itself as it developed into a new religion, separate from Judaism. But the other debate topics are really important too – extremely important – and a bit more, well, controversial.  The students enjoy that first one well enough – but not perhaps as much as they could, since they don’t really yet see what an enormous issue it is. (And because since it is the first debate, students tend not to prepare for it as much; once the rest of the class sees what a big deal these debates are, they tend to prepare a lot [...]

Do Paul and Jesus Represent Fundamentally Different Religions?

I’m in the middle of a thread on the class debates that I assign for my Introduction to the New Testament.   This started by my remarking on the debate I did with myself in front of the class, on whether the book of Acts is historically reliable; I haven’t yet gotten to what it is I argued (both affirmative and negative), but will do so!  First I need to set the broader context. As I’ve indicated, every student is required to participate in one of three debates in their 20-person recitation.   The first debate will be next week, after Spring break.   This resolution strikes me as a particularly important one: RESOLVED: Paul and Jesus Advocated Fundamentally Different Religions. For my money, this gets to the very heart of the formation of early Christianity.  Did the religion that emerged after Jesus’ death correspond closely to the religion that he himself followed and proclaimed?  Or not? I could obviously devote a large number of posts to just this question.  Here let me point out that as will [...]

2020-04-03T03:47:29-04:00March 14th, 2016|Historical Jesus, Paul and His Letters, Public Forum|

Weekly Readers’ Mailbag: March 12, 2016

In this week’s Reader’s Mailbag I will be addressing two questions about me personally, and my work.  The first has to do with my controversies with fundamentalists, and the second with which of my scholarly books would be accessible to a non-scholar.   If you have questions you would like me to address in this format, let me know!   QUESTION: Professor Ehrman, did you anticipate such vitriolic attacks on your character from fundamentalists when you set out on your publishing career years ago?   RESPONSE: I have to admit, I’m always surprised when I hear what a persona non grata I am in some Christian circles.  Just yesterday I was doing a podcast interview for my new book Jesus Before the Gospels, the interviewer, a former pastor, told me that when he was in his conservative Christian seminary, as a student, he had been warned never to read any of my books, because I was trying to lead people astray.   As always, I thought:  How strange!  I’ve never had as my purpose to lead anyone [...]

2016-03-12T08:34:14-05:00March 12th, 2016|Book Discussions, Public Forum, Reader’s Questions|

My Recitation Debates

Before I talk about the debate I had with myself in front of my class this week, on the topic Resolved: The New Testament Book of Acts is Historically Reliable, I need to do some considerable stage-setting.  First, in this post, let me explain how the class is set up (including the debates the students themselves do), to make sense of what I was trying to accomplish in my staged split-personality (affirmative and negative). So the class is an Introduction to the New Testament, which presupposes no background or knowledge about the field.  It is, of course, historically oriented, rather than confessionally, religiously, theologically, or devotionally.   Students learn the Jewish and Greco-Roman background to the New Testament, and they study the Gospels, the historical Jesus, the letters of Paul, and the other writings of the New Testament from the historical-critical perspective. Twice a week students hear me give a lecture (most recently three of the classes involved lectures on the historical Jesus: problems with our sources; methods scholars have developed for dealing with these problems; [...]

2020-04-03T03:47:38-04:00March 11th, 2016|Public Forum, Teaching Christianity|

The Value (or Not) of Debates

As most readers of the blog know, I do a good number of public debates, almost always (I’m trying to think if there is an exception!) with conservative evangelical Christians or fundamentalists who think that my views are dangerous to the good Christians of their communities and to all those non-Christians they very much want to convert.   My view all along has been that my historical views are not a threat to Christian faith, but only to a particular (and particularly narrow) understanding of that faith.   But most of my debate partners can’t see things that way.  For them, their views are Christianity, and any other kind of Christianity is not actually Christianity. I usually look forward to these debates in advance, but I have to say that almost every time I’m actually having one, I start jotting notes to myself, asking “Why Am I Doing This?” or “Why Do I Do This To Myself?”   I often find the debates very frustrating. I imagine my debate partners do as well.  They just can’t understand why [...]

2020-04-03T03:47:46-04:00March 10th, 2016|Bart's Debates, Public Forum, Teaching Christianity|

Buy New Book & Get Any Previous HarperOne Book for 50% OFF

In my latest book, Jesus Before the Gospels,  I examine the oral tradition and its role in shaping the New Testament stories about Jesus—and ultimately our understanding of Christianity. For a limited time, if you purchase Jesus Before the Gospels, you can get any of my other HarperOne bestselling books for 50% OFF plus FREE shipping. Offer expires 3/15/2016... Yes, you have only ONE WEEK to take advantage of this exclusive offer. Offer valid only in the United States. LEARN MORE:

Irritating Amazon Reviews

OK, to start off with, I have to admit that my skin is not as thick as I would like it to be.  And because of that, I really should not read reviews of my books on Amazon.  It is, to say the least, highly aggravating.  As on the Internet generally, people can say what they want and there is no mechanism (well, no effective mechanism) for making sure they say things that are true, right, or responsible.   So why do I read these things?  I suppose in hope (idle hope, most of the time) that the person will have read the book, understood it, and “gotten” the point.  It doesn’t always happen.  It often doesn’t happen.  OK, actually, it usually doesn’t happen. Here is a sample of the kind of thing I mean.  The writer of this review is not simply wrong about things, he is downright scandalous, leveling a charge that he does not substantiate (for a good reason: he is unable to substantiate it, since it is flat-out false).  But why does [...]

2017-11-15T20:26:49-05:00March 8th, 2016|Book Discussions, Public Forum|
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