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Bart Ehrman vs Richard Bauckham – Round 1

This is a debate I had on April 9, 2016  with Richard J. Bauckham, a well-known and influential British scholar who has written extensively on many of the areas of my own interest, the New Testament, the historical Jesus, and the non-canonical literature.   He is a fine scholar, and a conservative Christian, and I disagree with him on, well, so many things!

This was the first of a two-part debate that was hosted by Justin Brierley on his weekly radio show “Unbelievable,”  aired on UK Premier Christian Radio from the London studio. Our topic was “Are the Gospels Based on Eyewitness Testimony?”  My new book, Jesus Before the Gospels, argues that the stories about Jesus would have changed and evolved before they were written down in the Gospels(and that the authors of the Gospels were not eyewitnesses and had no access to the eyewitnesses). Bauckham’s earlier book Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, claims that the view that the Gospels were written by those with access to eyewitness testimony of Jesus’ first followers (and that therefore we can trust their historical reliability).   Our discussion was, at times, lively…


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Roman Religion as the Context for Christianity
The Fear of Hell, Good Debaters, and the Name of God: Mailbag April 22, 2016



  1. Avatar
    dragonfly  April 26, 2016

    If you had two books on your bookshelf you have to have some way of telling which is which without having to read them. The gospels must have had some sort of titles, even if we don’t know what they were, or they were known by different names in different communities. I think we would have to assume Papius didn’t know of a gospel called Mark or Matthew. Did the gospels of Peter, Judas, Thomas etc have their names from the beginning? And were they called “the gospel of…” or “the gospel according to…” or something else? If Justin calls our gospels “the memoirs if the apostles” wouldn’t that suggest other people also called them that at the time? Maybe they were always lumped together by that time? I think I would put Papius above Q on lost document wishlist!

    • Bart
      Bart  April 26, 2016

      Yes, that makes sense. The question is whether it’s anything other than good sense — that is, does the evidence support that view. If it’s right, then it’s very hard to explain why the early authors who appear to quote these books (e.g., Polycarp; Justin) do not call them by any names, but call them “the Gospel” or “the Memoirs” etc.

      • Avatar
        dragonfly  April 27, 2016

        Yes, it does seem strange. I understand polycarp just called them gospels, marcion called his version of Luke “gospel”, Justin also used “gospels” but preferred “memoirs” (possibly to distance himself from marcion?). Could they all have just been called “gospel”? That would have been confusing, but also lacking in definitive authority. They needed names, and you have to admit, the names they got were pretty authoritive.

  2. Avatar
    tpsouers1976  April 26, 2016

    Dr. Ehrman,
    I have read that Matthew’s Gospel borrows nearly 600 verses from Mark’s Gospel. If this is true, do you know of any reason why Matthew’s author chose to copy Mark’s account and change certain details?

    I ask, because, I have heard Christians claim that the differences in these accounts is due to the authors trying to present their story to a different audience.

    I’m not sure this makes sense to me, and I can’t understand why Matthew’s author would have copied so much from Mark, if he had access to eyewitness testimony.

    Based on your research, do you have a gut-level feeling for whether Matthew’s author was trying to correct or supplant Mark’s Gospel? Or, was this re-telling of a story commonplace in that time and culture?

    Also, I have heard Christians claim that, if the resurrection were not true, then people in Jerusalem would have come forward to contradict the Gospels.

    Yet, Matthew’s author seems to go out of his way to address the idea that Jesus’ body was stolen, which, suggests to me, that in Matthew’s lifetime, people were questioning the resurrection.

    Do we have any historical information from Jewish sources about the Jesus story?

    If, we consider that Mark’s Gospel ends with Jesus’ body as missing, and no resurrection sighting, isn’t it possible that some people may have believed that Jesus was resurrected, when his body may have been moved to a burial site?

    Then, Matthew’s Gospel comes 10-15 years later, and there is suddenly a resurrection sighting in his book.

    • Bart
      Bart  April 28, 2016

      Matthew copied Mark because he thought he told many of the most important stories. He changed them when he thought they could be improved upon. As to people coming forward to deny the resurrection: they did!

  3. Avatar
    hopefrees  April 28, 2016

    I noticed that Bauckham never directly answers a question. After a while of listening to him, I forget what the question posed to him was. I did enjoy the debate.

  4. Avatar
    bensonian  April 28, 2016

    Richard was very eloquent, however didn’t seem to provide very much data to support the position. I heard ”lets suppose…’ and ‘what if it was like this…’ to support ‘how it could have been.’ ‘Foam Critics and Classification’ was entirely irrelevant, whatever that is. Bart was concise and to the point. The entire debate had less than 15 minutes of worthwhile content. At least Bart quoted Catherine Hezser (did I get her name right?) as a scholarly source. There was a lot of conversation with very little data. Perhaps the eloquent style put me to sleep so I missed it.

  5. Avatar
    John  April 30, 2016


    A couple of years ago, you said:

    “…my hypothesis is that an edition of these four Gospels was published in Rome sometime between Justin in 150-60 CE (he quotes the Gospels but does not name them) and Irenaeus in 180-85 CE. That edition gave these Gospels their now-familiar names.”

    I got the impression from the programme though, that you now think Irenaeus himself chose the names. Have you changed you mind since then?

    • Bart
      Bart  May 1, 2016

      I’m probably not communicating very clearly! Irenaeus is the first source to name the names. I think he names the names because he has been influenced by this edition of the four Gospels in Rome.

  6. Avatar
    spiker  May 5, 2016

    Outstanding! I’m eager to listen. Any chance you will debate James Dunn?

    • Bart
      Bart  May 6, 2016

      Only if asked to do so! But my sense is that he’s becoming much less active these days.

  7. Avatar
    jogon  April 12, 2018

    Hi Bart do you have Richard Bauckham’s email address? I was the eyewitness to a UFO yesterday and was wondering if he could give me £500,000 to investigate further? As an eyewitness I must be taken at my word 😂


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