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Are the Gospels Principally Concerned to Show What Actually Happened?

I will not be going through the entirety of the four Gospels to point out how contradictions between one account and another make these texts difficult to use for historical purposes.  My previous post briefly summarized the situation with respect to the birth narratives, and similar statements could be made for numerous events of Jesus’ life as narrated in the Gospels.  In this post I’ll instead make an overall point about the kinds of problems one finds throughout these books.

Recall: the reason I’m dealing with this matter is that some readers have thought that the only reason biblical scholars identify contradictions in the New Testament is in order to show that these books aren’t inspired.  That’s not true at all.  My points so far are that New Testament *could* be inspired by God even if it has contradictions (I personally don’t think so, but that’s mainly because I’m an agnostic and so don’t think *anything* is inspired by God; but if I were a believer still I probably would think it is in some sense inspired) and that the contradictions matter for *other* things, not just for themselves.  In this case, they matter because two contradictory sources cannot both be right in their historical claims.  One could be right and the other wrong (at the point of contradiction), or both could be wrong, but both can’t be right.

Some of the contradictions affecting our understanding of the historical Jesus involve chronology of what happened when.  There are lots of picayune details that are at odds from one Gospel to another:  Did a man named Jairus come to beg Jesus to come help his daughter because she was sick and in danger of dying and needed to be healed or to come because she had already died and needed to be raised from the dead?  Well, what’s it matter?  I suppose it doesn’t matter if you don’t care what actually happened.

Did Jesus …

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Are Matthew and Paul at Odds on the Most Important Issue?
Why Contradictions Matter for Understanding the Life of Jesus



  1. prestonp  July 9, 2018

    That is sad. So many errors in your statement Bart, it’s incredible!

    The book is a good introduction to the science of textual criticism. But some of Bart’s conclusions seem to outrun the evidence — even the evidence that he himself cites. Consider that Bart is looking at the same evidence every other textual critic looks at. Yet, hardly anyone goes to the extreme Bart goes to in his conclusions.

    One of Ehrman’s teachers, whom I also knew at Princeton, was Bruce Metzger. Metzger came to much more conservative conclusions than Ehrman — yet looked at the exact same evidence. The vast majority of textual critics are closer to Metzger than Ehrman.

    The way Bart phrases things has an “alarmist” ring to it. I think he just likes to shake things up. Ehrman is technically correct that there are thousands upon thousands of textual variations. But it’s also the case that the vast majority of these thousands of variations are simply copies of copies of copies, etc.

    We have over 25,000 manuscript pieces of textual evidence to help us reconstruct the originals of the New Testament documents, and much of this evidence is very early. This is by far and away the best attested work in history.

    First, if we throw out all the texts about which there is some question — including those that may have been intentionally altered — it wouldn’t affect our general estimation of the reliability of the New Testament documents and wouldn’t affect anything important to the faith.

    Second — and this is very important — in the ancient world written texts were regarded as expressions of an oral tradition, and it was understood that it’s okay to slightly modify oral traditions to address new issues that have arisen in the community. So even if certain texts were altered slightly (and all the alleged alterations are in fact slight), it doesn’t mean there was anything sinister going on. This is what people expected to be done.
    greg boyd

    27 books repeat the same message in slightly different ways. They are well written and emphasize and restate again and again that the Son of God came to earth. He loves us, deeply, with all that He is. He bled and died to redeem mankind. We can know Him through receiving Him into our lives. Millions have found in Him the God of the universe, just as He promised.

    Jesus Loves You!

    • Bart
      Bart  July 10, 2018

      As I’m sure you know, textual criticism has nothing to do with what I was talking about in that post. (If you don’t know that, I’d suggest you read up on what textual criticism is!)

      • garytheman  July 18, 2018

        Your comment is absolutely rude. Bruce Metzger would be turning over in his grave to read what you write. He was brilliant and highly respected man of all times. You discredit his name

        • Bart
          Bart  July 19, 2018

          I’m sorry you found it that way. I can indeed be thin-skinned and testy when someone attacks my views without understanding what they are or even knowing what the key terms are. But I was trying to make an important point. The contradictions that scholars have found in the Bible have nothing to do with the field of textual criticism, which, as you probably know, I learned from Bruce Metzger, my revered mentor. It’s important both to see what the evidence there is for contradictions and to know what the field of textual criticism is. Unrelated. But sorry for coming off as rude.

    • SidDhartha1953  July 10, 2018

      @prestonp: With the exception of your last paragraph and a sentence, the only thing you have argued that Bart hasn’t said over and over about the texts, as far as I can see, is that you are right and he is wrong — about something. Without any snarky intent, I’d like to ask what you have done for the study of the NT since Princeton. Of course you are not compelled to answer, but it’s an honest question.

      • Bart
        Bart  July 12, 2018

        I don’t have the sense that he went to Princeton — but maybe he can tell us!

  2. godspell  July 9, 2018

    Contradictions in the historical record always matter. But the gospels are part of the historical record–to the point where scholars who aren’t even concerned with the history of Christianity sometimes use them. As you know better than most, there just isn’t enough data about this time period. And basically nothing we do have can be considered unbiased, or fully accurate. It’s often hard to find unbiased fully accurate accounts of things that happened last week!

    But yes, it’s important to understand that the gospel writers are not simply writing down factual accounts of what Jesus said and did. For one thing, none of them were witnesses to these events, and the witnesses they may have talked to would often remember those events differently (giving them some leeway to fill the gaps with their own imaginations). Earlier written sources since lost would have likewise been full of contradictions. How could it be otherwise?

    And yet, as you’ve said yourself many times in your own work, the basic underlying story told is pretty consistent. Hmm. That sounds like a contradiction in itself. They’re hard to avoid, aren’t they? 😉

    Some people read the gospels looking for reasons to believe.

    Others read them looking for reasons to DISbelieve.

    From the standpoint of historical study, both approaches are equally misguided.

    We’re reading to UNDERSTAND.

  3. RonaldTaska  July 9, 2018

    Excellent post in a series of excellent posts. In many respects, you are far more inclined than I to say that theological conclusions can be reached even it the historical base is one of shifting sand. I wish I could be that understanding, but it’s hard for me to be so with all of the Gospel contradictions. With all of those contradictions, no theology holds water or makes sense unless one does a whole lot of stretching….. For me, all of the Gospel contradictions were the straw that broke the camel’s back.

    • Bart
      Bart  July 10, 2018

      Of course I agree with you! But I can see how someone else might see it differently….

  4. Jim Powell  July 9, 2018

    Dr. E- great post. Could a similar point be made regarding Paul as he is presented by “Luke” in Acts? The picture and message of Paul in his authentic letters is quite different.

  5. rburos  July 9, 2018

    I was thinking about a question on my way to work, how to phrase it, and how I would try to insert it into your thread. Then I get home and whala! you post this, so I think my question fits right in.

    You have colleagues that work to analyze these writings at your level, and yet still maintain a Christian faith (I’m assuming non fundamentalist, of course), such as Martin, Stein, and I think Marcus. I’ve been reading from them, and although it’s clear when they also find these differences/contradictions in the text, I don’t see what it is that moves them in a way to maintain or even increase their faith. Would anybody you know who fits this definition be willing to explain their views in a post for the blog? It would seem an excellent point/counterpoint.

    • Bart
      Bart  July 10, 2018

      I’ve tried to get them to do it, and no one will. Their responses are either that “it’s too complicated” or that they just don’t have the time. Too bad! But the essential point is that they don’t “base their faith on the Bible.” They think those who do try to do so have a mistaken understanding of what faith is and are inclined, whether they know it or not, to a fundamentalist version of Christianity which they reject. Faith is based on other things and the Bible is not an inerrant revelation from God. (The other things could be personal experience with the divine; the tradition of the church as it has been handed down by the centuries; and…other things)

      • rburos  July 10, 2018

        thank you

      • talmoore
        talmoore  July 10, 2018

        Dr. Ehrman, it is exceptionally difficult for human beings to shift from a top-down worldview to a bottom-up worldview. It is, in fact, built into our biology to show deference to authority (even to an authority that is not actually there), so our natural inclination is to assume ever-increasing levels of authority up to and beyond the natural world itself.

        This topic is far to complex to go into detail here (it is the very topic of my work on the evolution of morality and human power structures), so suffice it to say that this shift is often a mentally and emotionally painful one for most people. One might describe it as the mental equivalent of an airplane passenger entering the cockpit only to discover there are no pilots. Ones first instinct is to feel confused, and then to rationalize a way that somebody, anybody could still be piloting this plane — for example, by remote control, or from a hidden cockpit.

        But if another passenger keeps insisting that there is no pilot, that the plane is simply flying on its own, our initial reaction is not one of relief or comfort, but one of dread or terror. How can the plane fly itself? That makes no sense? No, that sounds all wrong! That shift from the top-down mentality to the bottom-up is one we instinctively fight. It’s an uncomfortable shift. We don’t like to make it. We don’t want to make it. So many of us — most of us — never make that shift. We keep reassuring ourselves “Someone’s flying the plane; someone’s flying the plane,” because the alternative is simply too disturbing.

  6. talmoore
    talmoore  July 9, 2018

    Dr. Ehrman, I think the key problem is that many (most?) people don’t seem to understand that the gospels are not ancient histories written by ancient historians (i.e. in the sense that Herodotus, Thucydides, Josephus, Polybius, Plutarch, Livy, Tacitus, et al. were “historians” who wrote “histories”). The gospels are recruitment tools.

    That is, their purpose and utility were as rhetorical or propaganda tools for recruiting new Christians and defending the faith. The people who composed the gospel accounts may have thought they were writing historically accurate documents, but what they thought they were doing and what they actually did are manifestly not in alignment (as pointed out by your discussion of contradictions).

    For the writers of the gospels, it’s obvious that rigorous historical research and analysis took a backseat to rhetoric and propaganda. They were trying to spread the new Christian message, to gain adherents and to defend the faith from critics, both pagan and Jewish. You don’t accomplish those goals by presenting accounts riddled with nuance and hedging language.

    For example, Christians weren’t going to get a lot of converts by saying “there’s a possibility that Jesus may have been the Messiah, because some people have suggested evidence that Jesus might have been born in Bethlehem.” No, that’s not how you do it. You say, “Jesus was born in Bethlehem, fulfilling the prophecy that the Messiah was to be born in the city of David.” You just say it outright. As if it’s fact. That’s how a recruiter works.

    So in that sense, we should think of the gospels as the ancient equivalent of the Dianetics and E-meter “personality test” of Scientology. They are all simply recruitment tools used by recruiters of each respective religion to draw in new members. Any and all “facts” are used for that one and only purpose.

    • Bart
      Bart  July 10, 2018

      I don’t think the Gospels were ever used for missionary purposes. At least we have zero record that they were used to try to convert others. They were written as in-house literature for believers.

      • talmoore
        talmoore  July 10, 2018

        I don’t mean they were used specifically as missionary material, like a Chick tract or a Watchtower pamphlet or whatnot. I mean, they were used like training material for missionaries. If you were an ancient Christian, you would read — or more likely you would be read — a gospel, probably many times over, to the point that you had most of if memorized. And your knowledge of that information would be the backbone of your “gospel message” that you would preach to others. That’s why they’re called gospels, because they are literally the written versions of the “good news” message that Christians were supposed to spread.

        Think of it this way. Let’s say some kind of emergency situation develops in your neighborhood. For example, some kind of illness is spreading amongst the school-aged children. At first, news of this illness will probably spread through word-of-mouth — i.e. orally. But then, eventually, one parent gets the idea of printing out a notice that she sends out to various places — schools, parks, playgrounds, businesses, etc. In the notice, she includes all the information she’s gathered so far: severity of symptons, ways of catching the illness, ways of treating the illness, good habits for preventing the illness, etc. Then other parents read these notices and use them as a checklist for themselves, but also as a handy set of notes when informing other parents.

        This is what, essentially, the gospels were. They were the Christian equivalent of that parent’s notice. They were the written-down, consolidated version a word-of-mouth campaign about an impending emergency. They’re not meant to be historical documents. They’re the ancient equivalent of notes for an information campaign. Hence, rhetoric and propaganda.

      • SidDhartha1953  July 10, 2018

        Early catechisms?

      • galah  July 15, 2018

        Dr. Ehrman, talmoore said, concerning the Gosepls, “…their purpose and utility were as rhetorical or propaganda tools…”
        Do you believe that? Or, do you believe this is possible in any form or fashion?

        • Bart
          Bart  July 16, 2018

          No, I do not think they were used for propaganda in the normal sense, of being tools to convince outsiders to change their minds about something. They are very much in-house literature, written for the already converted. Of course propaganda can be used for believers as well as outsiders, and certainly the writers wanted to convince their inside readers of certain views of Jesus.

      • JohnKesler  July 19, 2018

        John 20:31 (NRSV)
        31 But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

        Granted, some manuscripts render part of this verse as “may continue to believe” rather than “may come to believe.”

        TEXT: “so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ”
        EVIDENCE: S2 A C D K L W X Delta Pi Psi f1 f13 33 565 700 1010 1241 Byz Lect syr
        RANK: C
        NOTES: “so that you may keep believing that Jesus is the Christ”
        EVIDENCE: p66vid S* B Theta 0250 892supp

        Is the variant reading the authentic one? If so, why do you think that? If not, John 20:31 certainly sounds like an acknowledgment that GJohn’s purpose is to win converts.

        • Bart
          Bart  July 20, 2018

          It’s a tricky question about which I have a pet theory that I’ve never published. I think that the source John is based on — which narrated seven signs of Jesus — originally used the aorist: the signs were written so that you might come to believe; when John took over the source and incorporated it into his Gospel, he changed it to the present: the signs were written — her in this Gospel — so that you might continue to believe.

          • JohnKesler  July 20, 2018

            Why do you have this view? Is there is evidence to elevate it beyond a “pet theory”? Do you think that GJohn contains any contributions from John son of Zebedee?

          • Bart
            Bart  July 22, 2018

            I doubt it, but don’t know for sure. As you may know, his name is never mentioned in the Gospel.

  7. Liam Foley
    Liam Foley  July 9, 2018

    One the interesting aspects of the contradictions in the Gospel is that you get four accounts of the life of Jesus that do not add up. Fundamentalists and maybe even more liberal types of Christians like to combine the Gospels together to get a complete picture of Jesus. I don’t think that can be done. Jesus as depicted in Mark is very different from Jesus in John. In Mark Jesus seems more humble and tries to keep his identity more quiet. In John Jesus can’t stop talking about himself! So he can’t be both in the context of his short ministry.

    This leads to me question. Were the gospel writers influenced much by Paul’s writings and his theology? It seems each gospel is relaying a theological message rather than a biographical outline of the life of Jesus, yet each writer also had oral tradition about Jesus’ life and teachings to include. So for me the theological and the biographical needs of the gospel writers is where they may clash and contradict, so I wonder if that may be due to the influences of Paul’s theology or, perhaps, were the gospel writers trying to communicate their own theological views that differed from Paul?

    • Bart
      Bart  July 10, 2018

      It’s hard to say. There are aspects of Mark’s Gospel (his understanding of the significance of Jesus’ death) that suggest he knew and was influenced by Paul. Luke of course had Paul as his great hero, but seems to have misunderstood, or not to have known, his actual theological views. Matthew may have been written to counter Paul’s emphasis that a follower of Jesus need not keep the law. John shows no obvious connections with Paul, though there are some similiarities in their views of who Jesus was as one who came from heaven for salvation.

  8. mannix  July 9, 2018

    A few quotes from Introductory passages of the New American Bible (Catholic), published almost 50 years ago:

    Describing Genesis chapters as Allegory: “For centuries these chapters have been misunderstood as inspired lessons in science. The Bible does not teach science; it teaches religious values…the point of the allegory(not the details)is God’s message to you.”

    On OT stories: “The core of these stories [from Gn, Ex, Judges, Samuel] is historical, but remember the author did not intend to write history as we find it in our schoolbooks: he simply uses traditions and fashions them to bring out a religious lesson.”

    On Gospels: “…the Gospel writers did not intend to write history in the scientific sense; rather they were writing theological reflections on existing traditions (accounts of miracles) in order to teach believing Christians of the community’s faith in Christ and the Church”.
    It is unfortunate that the above caveats are not stressed more frequently by priests and ministers in Sunday homilies.

  9. fishician  July 9, 2018

    I’ve always wondered why the divine Son of God spent 30+ years on earth, and yet spent only about a year actually teaching people about the things of God. And (assuming the Son of God could write), never used any of that time to write things out so we wouldn’t have to rely on later accounts that appear more legendary than factual.

  10. ask21771  July 9, 2018

    why is the whore of babylon called a whore

  11. Lev
    Lev  July 9, 2018

    May I ask two brief questions?

    1. I understand many scholars, especially in modern times, have tended to favour John’s chronology* over Mark’s, but it sounds like you trust Mark more – why is this?

    2. Is football coming home? #ThreeLions

    *They tend to agree with you that John changes the teaching of Jesus, but show surprising sympathy for the chronology of his ministry.

    • Bart
      Bart  July 10, 2018

      1. It’s only a minority of scholars who favor John’s chronology, mainly because it disagrees with three other sources, all of which are much earlier and therefore more likely closer to the historical truth; 2. We hope so, but … who knows!

      • Lev
        Lev  July 11, 2018

        I’ve just read John Meier’s treatment on the question of chronology in ‘A Marginal Jew’ and I was very impressed with how meticulous he was. He acknowledges scholarship is divided (but he doesn’t give a sense of how much) and cites “great scholars” (p.395) such as Joachim Jeremias (favours the Synoptic chronology), Joseph Blinzler and Raymond Brown (who favour John). Meier also favour’s John, but it sounds like you’re saying he, Blinzler and Brown are the minority?

        I’m a little disappointed you’re agnostic on the question of whether football is coming home. I hope you will find faith!

        It’s coming home, Bart – IT’S COMING HOME!!

        • Bart
          Bart  July 12, 2018

          Yes, I’d say they are in the minority. And SO disappointing about last night….

          • Lev
            Lev  July 12, 2018

            Thanks, Bart.

            As I sit here nursing a hangover – I have come to accept that I have lost faith in football coming home.

            Maybe next time!?

          • Bart
            Bart  July 14, 2018

            I’m afraid it’s not so much a matter of faith as fact. It ain’t commin’ home this time. And I think the policy of a consolation match is terrible.

          • Iskander Robertson  July 13, 2018

            football been coming home since 1966

  12. doug  July 9, 2018

    When I was a kid in Sunday School, I was taught that the Gospels don’t all tell the same stories because they supplement each other, rather than repeating each other. I later learned that the Synoptics repeat each other quite a bit. And sometimes, as Bart has clearly shown, the Gospels contradict each other.

  13. prestonp  July 9, 2018

    “There are places where the changes matter, though, and matter a lot – even if there are not hundreds of thousands of such places.”

    “one that is the only verse in the Bible that explicitly affirms the doctrine of the Trinity” Bart
    That is not true. It is NONSENSE, Bart. NONSENSE.

    “and one of direct relevance to the doctrines of forgiveness and redemption, where Jesus extends pardon to a woman caught committing adultery.” Bart
    It has no additional relevance whatsoever in the New Testament, Bart. It is a perfect example of exactly what the New Covenant guarantees: forgiveness to the contrite person. It merely affirms everything Jesus promises, everything He stood for, everything He is.

    “But if I have to say whether we know for sure, then I’d say absolutely, no, we do not and cannot. For that we would need more evidence than what is currently available.” Bart

    If we could go back in time and observe and hear up close what took place, we still would not have enough evidence to prove beyond a shadow of turning what actually happened. Most who hung with Jesus and saw miracle after miracle and heard the parables and watched Him be murdered in cold blood did not believe in Him.

    Do we know for sure the sun will rise tomorrow? First, the sun doesn’t rise, so reject that expression. It is false and it’s been perpetuated by the ignorance and laziness of human beings. Second, no one knows for sure if the sun will rise tomorrow. Anyone who says that he knows is not being truthful.

    Why didn’t He make it clear in the other Gospels that He was God? That is a strange question. On several occasions He instructed those He healed not to blab about what He’d done, save a priest. They blabbed anyway. They knew Who He was. We know, too, based on everything in the N.T. and we would be just as certain if John was eliminated from the Canon. Perhaps He was concerned that the crowds would become so large that He’d be crushed. He wanted people to hear His message more than He wanted to entertain. Many were eager to see Him perform, including a King. He was adamant that the bulk of the miracles would have to have an evangelical thrust. HE WAS ABUNDANTLY CLEAR THROUGHOUT ALL 4 GOSPELS THAT HE WAS GOD.

    Bart, you’re scary

    • Bart
      Bart  July 10, 2018

      You may want to try a different blog then!

      • turbopro  July 10, 2018

        Prof, if I may please: I should prefer he continues with his comments. Granted, there is hand-waving, and sometimes shouting, but who knows, perhaps we may be given something of a substantive counter argument at some point.

        After all, we should be so lucky that all dissenters were as civil as ‘cheito’, right.

      • Tony  July 13, 2018

        Jeez…and you complained about me?

        • Bart
          Bart  July 14, 2018

          Wasn’t complaining! Just pointed out that some people would find more satisfaction elsewhere!

      • garytheman  July 18, 2018

        Your comment is appalling. I would have thought as a teacher you would respect others’ ideas. Isn’t that why we go to college to learn yet also be able to express our concepts? At least when I went to college and seminary we would ask to express and if we disagreed then we would discuss and eventually come to the right conclusion. Professors are learned men and respected but they have their own opinion.

        • Bart
          Bart  July 19, 2018

          No, I wasn’t trying to be offensive — I really think that if someone reads this blog every day and objects to everything on it (as one or two people do) that they would genuinely be happier spending time elsewhere instead.

    • HawksJ  July 10, 2018

      “Do we know for sure the sun will rise tomorrow? First, the sun doesn’t rise, so reject that expression. It is false and it’s been perpetuated by the ignorance and laziness of human beings. Second, no one knows for sure if the sun will rise tomorrow. Anyone who says that he knows is not being truthful.“

      No one knows for sure if the sun will rise tomorrow? In your first three sentences, you seem pretty sure that it doesn’t (and, therefore, won’t).

      I’m not sure you’d recognize a contradiction if you saw one.

    • godspell  July 12, 2018

      We know for a fact the earth goes around the sun, and yet the bible states the contrary. Because that’s what most people believed then. People still think the sun rises, because that’s what they see every morning, and we tend to believe what we see, even though we know our eyes sometimes deceive us. Most of us will never see the earth from space, and an increasing number of people insist it’s flat. (Blessed are they who have not seen, and yet believe.)

      You believe Jesus is God, so you skew everything you read to fit that conclusion.

      Explain this to me–Jesus says to a man “Why do you call me good? Only God is good.”

      Why does he call out on the cross, accusing God of forsaking him, if he believes he is God?

      Why in the earliest version of his baptism we have, does he hear God’s voice–and nobody around him hears it?

      Why did he get baptized by a mere man, if he was God?

  14. cheito
    cheito  July 9, 2018


    I think that the scholars may have erred in dating the Gospel of John, and/or in dating the sources used by the publisher of John.

    If John 21:24 is correct about WHO the author of the accounts found in ‘John’ IS , (i.e., one of Jesus’ eyewitnesses and disciples) then the theological ideas about Jesus divinity found in the Gospel of John, most likely had been circulating before the synoptic Gospel were written.

    Paul in his letter to the Philippians, (which Paul wrote before the synoptic Gospel were written) writes about his belief that Jesus had existed in the form of God before Jesus was born from one of the descendants of a King of Israel named David, who was from the tribe of Judah.

    Also, by the time Paul wrote Philippians, he had already met John, Jesus’ disciple and apostle.

    Most likely Paul and John had long discussions about all things concerning Jesus. Including, most likely, Jesus claim that He was the son of God and had existed with God before he was born.

    • Bart
      Bart  July 10, 2018

      No, John 21;24 does not say that the author of the Gospel of John was an eyewitness and disciple. Read it more closely. The author who is writing in the verse is *differentiating* himself from his alleged source of information (note the shift from “he” to “we”)

      • cheito
        cheito  July 10, 2018

        DR EHRMAN:

        Your Comment:

        No, John 21;24 does not say that the author of the Gospel of John was an eyewitness and disciple…

        My Comment:

        John 21:24 implies that this disciple was still active, bearing witness “of these things”. Most likely, that’s why John 21:24 points out that “WE” know his testimony is true.

        Note that it wasn’t just one person who knew that this disciple’s witness was true, because John 21:24 clearly states, “WE KNOW”. Clearly more than one person KNEW about this disciple’s witness, and that he had also written a record about his experiences with Jesus.

        Is the WORD, “bears witness of these things” used in John 21:24, in the present tense, implying that this disciple was still witnessing and that they knew him personally?

        Another interesting statement is that John 21:24 also clearly asserts that it was this disciple who had also “WRITTEN THESE THINGS”. What things did this disciple write?

        I think that the things this disciple wrote, were the very same accounts that the publishers of John used as a source, and I think that this disciple was still alive when they published his writings. I don’t think that the publishers of “John” changed much of what the eyewitness disciple had written.


        John 21:24-This is the disciple who bears witness of these things, and wrote these things; and we know that his witness is true.

  15. wgmccollum  July 9, 2018

    Random questions: I’m aware that you and your wife have a flat in Wimbledon and that you visit there during the summer. Of course, for any American who hears the word “Wimbledon” we think of the tennis tournament – of which I’m a fan (pulling for John Isner who’s made it into the quarters ). What do you do in Wimbledon when you holiday there? Or is it even a holiday? What was the draw? I’m guessing your wife had something to do with that. What is her background? (I know she’s a Medieval Lit scholar, but you know, what’s her story) Where is she from in the UK? Tell us about your wife’s career and your time in Wimbledon. Worthy of an entire blog post?? Regardless, thank you for your valuable time.

    • Bart
      Bart  July 10, 2018

      The family is in England, mainly around London, and Wimbledon — possibly because of the tennis — has excellent rail service to wherever we need to go: central London, Surrey, Hampton Court, etc., with both a tube station and, more important, an overground on Southwest Trains. Plus it’s a *wonderful* place to be, not just during the tournament. We have a postage-stamp-sized flat, but it’s a fantastic pied a terre.

      • Boltonian  July 10, 2018

        Crooked Billet or Hand in Hand? Both excellent when I inhabited that part of London in the 1970s.

        • Bart
          Bart  July 12, 2018

          Dog and Fox.

          • Boltonian  July 12, 2018

            Good choice. Used to do excellent grub as I remember – but that was a long time ago.

  16. GregAnderson  July 9, 2018

    In the case of the Synoptics, wouldn’t it be fair to conclude that the authors of Matthew and Luke purposefully and consciously chose to contradict their previous sources? We know they at least had copies of Mark available. And we know that Luke somewhat disparages previous writings.

    Given that, isn’t the easiest explanation of the contradictions simply that those authors wanted to correct what they considered inaccurate writings?

    I’m not suggesting that the later authors truly had any more reliable info. Simply that when they wrote contradicting passages, they were fully aware of what they were doing, and they had their own reasons to do so.

    • Bart
      Bart  July 10, 2018

      Yes, they were either correcting or improving their source (in their opinion), or preferring what they had heard elsewhere.

  17. ryantmayfield13  July 9, 2018

    Bart, I was wondering if the worship of angelic beings was common among Jews during the Second Temple period. Tagging on to this, do you think that the authors of the synoptic gospels and/ or the apostle Paul saw Jesus as an angelic being rather than God himself?

    • Bart
      Bart  July 10, 2018

      I deal with this in my book How Jesus Became God. But short answer: yes, judging from the insistence in our surviving texts that angels should NOT be worshiped, it appears that they were (you don’t have laws telling people not to do something unless they’re inclined to do it). I don’t think the synoptics saw Jesus as a pre-existent angelic being, but I make an argument inmy book that Paul did.

  18. ardeare  July 10, 2018

    Religious know-it-alls want to rip Joseph Smiths varying accounts of his “first vision” and the discrepancies in the Book of Mormon but largely refuse to discuss the contradictions contained within the gospels. Personally, I think it’s ok to say you believe in Jesus and don’t know which stories are the truest without going berserk on the people who find the contradictions.

  19. prestonp  July 10, 2018

    I think it makes a lot of sense and it would be very beneficial if Bart edited the N.T. whittling it down to the handful of verses he is confident communicate the gospel message as it was originally written. Why not? Let’s see what we’re left with when Bart excises each and every verse he believes doesn’t belong in the current NIV N.T. After 40 years of intense, exhaustive examination and research he could pull out his old winnowing fork and remove all the chaff, each modified, altered, added to, removed from, misspelled, imagined, distorted jot and tittle he is certain does not belong.

    We’ll call it: “Ehrman’s New, Revised And Completely Pared Down International Version Of What’s Left Of The Former Inaccurate, Misleading And Falsely Portrayed Book Of Miracles That Never Happened, A God Who Never Became A Man, And The Rewritten Bull Of The Early Band Of Boobs Seeking Riches And Fame From Back In The Day Trudging Their Way Through The Roman Empire And Other Tall Tales”

    Actually, it is not such a bad idea. Attacking the N.T. ceaselessly has its place, but so should exalting what is left after the massacre and all the celebrations. Let’s devote one minute to talk about the edited version, the raw, true, original (as best as Bart can determine) words for every hour dedicated to unraveling and exposing its endless and vexatious errors. Our discussions shouldn’t take long, maybe a half minute? I’m guessing the New Version will have about 11 words or phrases altogether: “a”, “the”, “if”, “maybe”, “no”, “I don’t know”, “no way”, “get lost”, “beat it”, “you’re kidding, right?”

    The most influential book in the development of Western civilization that introduces and reveals the life of the most influential person who ever lived, reduced to not all that much really. Who knew?

    Bruce Metzger, “The evidence for the resurrection of Jesus Christ is overwhelming.”

    “Astronauts usually don’t talk about faith much at work, said three-time ex-astronaut Mike Mullane. However, there was an active Bible study group among the astronauts when he flew several years ago. Mullane said Glenn eloquently put his finger on a common belief among astronauts.

    “It is so incredibly beautiful that it does stir your soul into thinking that there does have to be some Supreme Being,” Mullane said Monday.

    Or, explain how 3,000,000,000 letters in DNA arranged themselves perfectly in a muddy wasteland.

    • dschmidt01
      dschmidt01  July 11, 2018

      Why are you so angry prestonp? Why are you trying to belittle Dr Ehrman when you address him in your comments by first name in a condensending way? It appears you paid $25 to troll this blog. Fortunately the money all goes to charity so at least someone is benefitting from your membership. Please try and keep your comments more civil.

    • flcombs  July 11, 2018

      Well, based on your attacking post: from your many comments that are extremely narrow in scope and source, you obviously don’t read much outside your comfort zone or what your minister tells you to believe. Do you really have internet access as many of your concerns are well explained if you can do a Google search. Proving you misunderstand science only confirms what people already think from your posts, but it is fine to reinforce it.

      I’m surprised at your comments concerning Dr. Ehrman as (unless I missed it) you have been unable to answer comments to your own statements. For example, do Christians have the power of god/holy spirit and able to do miracles to prove God? Will you demonstrate it? Your shotgun approach is interesting as it tries to hit something but fails to hit anything.

      You actually make EXCELLENT POINTS IN SUPPORT of Dr. Ehrman, and I appreciate you showing the contrast in approach. He is at least honest enough to admit to the uncertainties, strengths and weakness of various views and respects those he disagrees with. That’s also known as being a good and respected scholar. You probably don’t realize it, but you don’t have any obligation or necessity to be on this blog since it is obviously too much for you. Some people like discussion of facts even in disagreement, others can’t take it.

      On the other hand, your comments are very consistent with many known Christian apologists that just know they are right because, well, they have the Bible! And of course there was NO human involvement in it so naturally it is “proven” to be from God. But we know since for example Muslims claim the Quran is from God that it is the true one and you just aren’t wise enough to know it because you reject the true god and worship a false god Jesus. Your claims are not unique.

      (FYI nothing meant against Christians in general or any others, just replying to a specific post and tone. I may be direct sometimes in discussion but am really live and let live and enjoy discussing various views.)

    • dynamis878  July 11, 2018

      I think this is an absurd misconstruction of Bart’s positions

  20. SidDhartha1953  July 10, 2018

    This is by far the most cogent explanation, in a few words, of the impossibility that the gospels are, or ought to have been, factual accounts of the ministry and teachings of Jesus, that I have read to date. I’m more appreciative than ever of the critical historian’s task – not only to tease out what fragments of reliable information can be gleaned about “what happened” in the life and death of Jesus – as well as the early days of the movement that followed his death – but what his followers decided mattered more than “just the facts” — and why.
    I haven’t got the Dale Martin book you suggested yet; even the Kindle edition is ridiculously expensive; but I’ve asked my public library to purchase it. Hopefully they’ll say yes. Watching one of his talks about biblical “truth” and reading today’s post have gone a long way to helping me see how even an orthodox believer can not be a simpleton about the “real world.” I may need to rethink my disdain for Stephen Jay Gould’s nonoverlapping magisteria. Maybe his choice of terminology was the only really unfortunate part of the argument. I’ll let you know what I decide.


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