3 votes, average: 5.00 out of 53 votes, average: 5.00 out of 53 votes, average: 5.00 out of 53 votes, average: 5.00 out of 53 votes, average: 5.00 out of 5 (3 votes, average: 5.00 out of 5)
You need to be a registered member to rate this post.

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 http://www.christianapologeticsalliance.com/2013/09/01/undesigned-coincidences. He’s also the author of The Foundations of Knowledge and Internalism and Epistemology.

Please adjust gear icon for 1080p High-Definition:

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



  1. Avatar
    john76  March 26, 2016

    It seems very unlikely that Matthew and Luke would BOTH include ‘genealogies’ OUT OF THE BLUE (since the genealogies are not a part of ‘Q’ and there is no genealogy in Mark or Paul), unless Luke was borrowing from and editing Matthew.

    • AoSS
      AoSS  June 2, 2016

      This is one of the reasons I think the Three-Source Hypothesis is better than the Two-Source Hypothesis.
      There are some other reasons, but they can be found really quickly when looking up the idea.
      I think that it is clear that there is a source(s) for Luke and Matthew that isn’t Mark (call it “Q” is you wish), but I also think that Luke clearly does know about Matthew, even if Matthew isn’t a main source.

      • Bart
        Bart  June 3, 2016

        It’s all very complicated! But if Luke knows Matthew, there is no reason to hold to Q!

  2. Avatar
    Kazibwe Edris  March 26, 2016

    “21 The authorities threatened them even more and then let them go”

    does this sound like they were being persecuted for believing in a resurrected jewish god?
    let them go?

    “Since all the people were praising God for what had happened, the authorities couldn’t find any way to punish Peter and John. 2”

    peter got saved by the people

    26 Then the officer of the temple guards went with some of his men to bring back the apostles without using force.

    After all, the officer and his guards were afraid that the people would stone them to death for using force.

    so the persecutor would become the persecuted?

    ““We gave you strict orders not to mention Jesus’ name when you teach. Yet, you’ve filled Jerusalem with your teachings. You want to take revenge on us for putting that man to death.”

    they jews even forgot that they put jesus to death and don’t want apostles to preach about him. nothing about barring them from preaching about resurrection

    33 When the men on the council heard this, they became furious and wanted to execute the apostles. 34 But a Pharisee named Gamaliel stood up.

    gamaliel saved peter

    38 “We should keep away from these men for now. We should leave them alone.

    leave them alone

    42 Every day in the temple courtyard and from house to house, they refused to stop teaching and telling the Good News that Jesus is the Messiah.

    honestly does this sound like persecuted people?

  3. Avatar
    Kazibwe Edris  March 26, 2016

    acts does not seem to show “severe persecution” of jesus’ disciples.

  4. Avatar
    geshtu  March 26, 2016

    Every time it started to get interesting, the debate was cut off by the host. Sigh.
    Thanks for posting this. It was great to hear both sides, and both approaches.

    I thought Tim’s arguments were a bit strange at times.

    In the case of the Pilate story, it seemed that his argument first assumed the historical accuracy of Luke and John, which was the very thing he was trying to prove (otherwise, why not just conclude that Pilate in Luke behaves in a way that may not be historically accurate?). For example, if Pilate never actually declared Jesus to be innocent (or worse, if the entire conversation between Pilate and Jesus was invented by Christians), then there isn’t much to explain. Someone could argue that John provides information that is consistent with Luke’s narrative, but if they’re both historically inaccurate it doesn’t really help much. Such an argument does not work as evidence for historical accuracy, because the argument itself depends on the narratives being historically accurate ahead of time (not unlike some arguments for the resurrection). Perhaps, as you said, the best explanation is in terms of which stories each writer was familiar with, and the common overlap.

    In the case of miracles, he seemed to create a pretty arbitrary boundary around what should be considered historical or not. Apparently in order to be considered historical, miracle claims must have spread under threat of persecution. I agree with your answer (that the stories were not spread under threat of persecution), but even despite this, are we supposed to believe that dangerous ideas only spread if they are true?

  5. Avatar
    dragonfly  March 27, 2016


  6. Josephsluna
    Josephsluna  March 27, 2016

    Goodmorning Bart !!! May your Easter be a joyful and happy one ! Happy Easter Bart ! Haven’t forgot about you Mr!!!

  7. Avatar
    Stephen  March 27, 2016

    Wow! “Un-designed Coincidences”? Seriously? Not to be uncharitable but seems to me that Christian apologetics serves to provide an intellectual veneer for believers who arrive at their beliefs by other avenues.

    But what made this part hard to listen to was the extremely annoying moderator feeling the need to repeat your comments back to each of you. In these kinds of discussions the more we notice the moderator the worse it is.

  8. Avatar
    Brian  March 27, 2016

    Your patience is truly amazing!

  9. Avatar
    prairieian  March 27, 2016

    A scholar by name of Stephen J Gould made the observation in his short book, “Rock of Ages: Science and Religion in the Fullness of Life”, that the world of religion and that of (in his case) science operated on two different planes with the latter unable to resolve issues centred on the former. They were two separate ‘magisteria’ that operated independently and that efforts to resolve discrepancies between the two ultimately ran aground on differing assumptions or world views. It is yet another tilt at the two cultures issue. Substitute history for science and you get the same outcome. (I shan’t get into all his themes, but it is a good book by my lights.)

    One of the respondents to the radio show nailed it – the individual concluded that a debate between representatives from the two perspectives end up talking past each other based on differing assumptions and conclusions from the evidence.

    If you have no faith, there is no evidence to ever persuade. If you do, then you need none. Pretty difficult to bridge this. Given Tim McGrew’s starting place I cannot imagine any argument making much of a dent. I note that Bart has, many times, observed that he himself in the past was adept at constructing arguments to defend his Christian world view, given some sort of attack.

    I guess these debates are worth having, but I think I would prefer them to be between two historians arguing over evidence from the same intellectual starting point. If that starting point is one of faith, there is no debate.

  10. talmoore
    talmoore  March 27, 2016

    Dr. Ehrman, apparently some apologists think they have caught you in a slip up. They have, but not in the way they think. In this case, you should have been more clear that the Son of Man is nowhere assumed to be one and the same with God. But some Jews probably thought the Son of Man (i.e. the Messiah) might be a member of the Heavenly Host (i.e. an angel), which is certainly not the same thing as being God himself.


    • Bart
      Bart  March 29, 2016

      I didn’t realize that anyone ever thought the Son of Man was God himself.

      • Avatar
        llamensdor  March 30, 2016

        They didn’t.

      • Avatar
        Steefen  March 30, 2016

        Hm, if Jesus became God and in some instances Jesus was Son of Man, then God is Son of Man.

        Clarification (what I really think), Jesus held the office of Son of Man until the Parable of the Wicked Tenants and definitely no longer than after the Monday after Palm Sunday when he misbehaved in his Father’s House, turning over tables, then telling those the Father had given, paraphrasing, “my body and blood are the sacrifice now, not what’s going on at the Temple.”

  11. Avatar
    Kazibwe Edris  March 28, 2016

    For example, John the Baptist preached baptism of repentance for the
    > > remission of sins. (Mark 1:4). Is that why he was killed? No—it was
    > > for criticizing Herod’s choice of wife. (Mark 6:18) Stephen was killed
    > > for calling the Sanhedrin names. (Acts 7) According to Acts, Peter was
    > > to be killed because it pleased the people. (Acts 12:1-4)

  12. tasteslikecorn
    tasteslikecorn  March 28, 2016

    Timothy McGrew was absolutely not a suitable debate partner for this topic.. I could have argued his side better. His ignorance of current scholarship was shocking.

  13. Avatar
    Wilusa  March 28, 2016

    I didn’t care enough about it to follow the link to more of his views.

    If it’s true that the NT passage about the Jewish leaders’ not being in the room with Pilate and Jesus doesn’t actually say the two men were alone, then OK, maybe members of Pilate’s staff were there. So it might be true that it can’t be argued that no one could have heard and reported what was said. But for anyone but a fanatical fusser over NT details, the natural response is “So what?”

    What does make sense is your showing how *what the Gospel writers chose to include* tells us that attitudes were changing over time. In this case, placing ever more responsibility for Jesus’s death on “the Jews” and less on Pilate.

  14. Avatar
    caseyjunior  March 28, 2016

    McGrew’s argument about one gospel explaining another was used a lot by the minister of the church I used to attend. He used it when preaching about Mary’s anointing Jesus’ feet in the gospel of John. He had us look up the same story in Matthew. I was an English major in college and it was obvious to me that the people in these two stories were not the same. Later I looked the story up in Mark and Luke and found that in Luke it was in a different setting with a different point. I may not be a classical scholar, but I know enough to be able to be able to tell that all these stories are not explaining each other – by accident or otherwise. People like McGrew drive me crazy. They twist and turn to make things turn out the way they want.

  15. Avatar
    turbopro  March 28, 2016

    As I opined in my comments for ‘Round 1,’ this appears to be a debate between one who is well-read and knowledgeable about, but is not an expert in, Subject A, and one whose actual field of work and expertise are grounded in Subject A.

    As for the Un-designed Coincidences, and other similar apologetics, ipse dixit: @38:38 “…a remarkable bit of mental gymnastics…”

  16. Avatar
    sashko123  March 28, 2016

    “Overall pattern” — I learned a word today to describe what I think about McGrew’s argument — “apophenia.” In popular books on neuroscience like INCOGNITO: SECRET LIVES OF THE BRAIN, the term which is sometimes used is “patternicity,” which tends to give rise to superstitious beliefs and behavior. Additionally, very frustrating one-sided test by McGrew for credibility of miracle stories — they are more likely to be true, because Christians could be persecuted by telling them, but, what, no strong theological reason to INVENT miracles to give Jesus and his followers more credibility?? I mean, really?? But McGrew has bought into this one-sided view of reality… Shees! And yet, I can’t really blame McGrew for his psychology. His beliefs probably require him to believe these arguments. What do you think?

  17. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  March 28, 2016

    Readers of this blog might want to read Dr. Ehrman’s interview regarding “Jesus Before the Gospels” found on 3/28/16 on the “Religious News Service” website. It is an excellent interview. I certainly agree with Dr. Ehrman that a less literal interpretation of the Bible can lead to less oppression of women and gays and, unfortunately, LGBT people are certainly being oppressed in North Carolina these days. The end of this interview contains a thought provoking sentence where Dr. Ehrman says “The facts of history cannot really touch true Christian faith.” I think his point here, like with his new book, is to contend that the “remembered” Jesus is not necessarily the “historical” Jesus. I do get this point. Nevertheless, for those of us who have spent our entire lives trying to go where the facts lead us, grasping this sentence is a real struggle. Hopefully, Dr. Ehrman will talk more about this on this website and further explain it to us at some point. For me, a religion not really touched by facts would be like a medical practice (I am a physician) not really touched by basic anatomy. Doesn’t there have to be a similar basic “anatomy 101” for a faith?

  18. Avatar
    JR  March 29, 2016

    I find talking through issues of historical reliability and inerrancy with evangelical Christians a bit confusing. In my case this was not in a debating context but a pastoral one as I personally wrestled with these issues and talked to my pastors.

    Educated evangelical ministers insist that the doctrine of inerrancy takes into account the fact that the gospels weren’t written like a court room testimony and the writers had theological agendas.
    But when you say to them ‘exactly – that is why John puts the temple cleansing at the beginning of the gospel , that is why Jesus says so many different things in John to the synoptics etc – John wasn’t writing history he was writing theology’, they disagree and insist that all the details fit together (there were 2 temple cleansings, Jesus kept his identity secret (Mark) while at the same time telling the Jews he was God (John).

    Would this also be true of the majority of views you encounter when you debate evangelical scholars? They caveat inerrancy in debates so that it seems nuanced but when it boils down to it they essentially hold the same view as fundamentalists in the pews?

  19. Avatar
    Pattycake1974  March 29, 2016

    I’m working my way backward here, starting with this part of the debate first, but I can see how McGrew was a frustrating opponent. He had a sarcastic tone throughout the show and attacked critical scholarship. However, I thought he made a valid point about the Christians who told miracle stories were in a different context than the miracles being told about Baal Shem Tov. Paul admitted to intensely persecuting Christians and that was very early on, so it’s not like they were free to say what they wanted without consequences. After Paul’s conversion, the tables were turned on him and he was the one at the receiving end of persecution as he stated in I Thessalonians. Doesn’t that show that their environment was hostile, at least sometimes?
    You really set him off when explaining how undesigned coincidences could be explained in a natural way. Instead of going into attack mode, he should have just stuck with his argument. When he became agitated, I found him annoying. When you’re agitated, it cracks me up.

    • Avatar
      Kazibwe Edris  March 30, 2016

      “However, I thought he made a valid point about the Christians who told miracle stories were in a different context than the miracles being told about Baal Shem Tov. Paul admitted to intensely persecuting Christians and that was very early on, so it’s not like they were free to say what they wanted without consequences.”

      can you show in acts where peter, simon and others are intensely persecuted? can you show where the ring leaders were intensely persecuted ?

      • Avatar
        Pattycake1974  March 31, 2016

        In Acts 4, Peter and John were put in jail overnight. In Acts 5, the apostles were in danger of being put to death but were flogged instead. Stephen was stoned to death in Acts 7.
        Acts 8 And Saul approved of their killing him.
        On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. 2 Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him. 3 But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison.

        • Avatar
          Kazibwe Edris  April 1, 2016

          “On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria.”

          except the apostles?

          “Stephen was stoned to death in Acts ”

          “55 But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God; 56 and he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing at the right hand of God.” 57 But they cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears and rushed together upon him. ”

          i don’t understand how any of this proves that disciples were intensely persecuted for their claim about jesus coming back to life. he is seeing something nobody else could see and what appears to anger the jews is claim that a human is standing next to gods hand . i don’t see “intense persecution” of the disciples/ring leaders.

          • Avatar
            Pattycake1974  April 3, 2016

            Stephen being stoned to death isn’t intense persecution?

          • Avatar
            Pattycake1974  April 4, 2016

            I don’t think they were persecuted ALL the time, but I do see how they can be viewed in a different context than Baal Shem Tov. Is that your main contention here, persecution? Or that the miracles couldn’t have happened?

        • Avatar
          Kazibwe Edris  April 2, 2016

          i wonder what doctor ehrmans thought is on the following

          in acts the romans arrest paul because of disputes over jewish law.

          The Roman view of Paul’s position

          23:25-30 – He further wrote a letter to Felix of which this is a copy: “Claudius Lysias sends greeting to his excellency the governor Felix. “This man had been seized by the Jews and was on the point of being murdered by them when I arrived with my troops and rescued him, since I had discovered that he was a Roman citizen. Wishing to find out what the accusation was that they were making against him, I had him brought down to their Sanhedrin. There I discovered he was being accused over questions of their laws, and that there was no charge against him which deserved either death or imprisonment. Now, however, that I have received private information of a plot against his life, I have sent him to you without delay. At the same time I have notified his accusers that they must make their charges against him in your presence.”

          what is going on here? if paul was being persecuted because he was worshipping a convicted criminal who paul thought was leading his movement , why didn’t the jews inform about this? this is the “king of the jews” man
          and paul is charged with nothing serious?

    • Avatar
      Kazibwe Edris  March 30, 2016

      “Paul admitted to intensely persecuting Christians and that was very early on, so it’s not like they were free to say what they wanted without consequences.”

      what did paul know about the christians he was persecuting?

    • Avatar
      Kazibwe Edris  April 4, 2016

      “Stephen being stoned to death isn’t intense persecution?”

      no. doesn’t seem like it was intense persecution .doesn’t seem like christians were being intensely persecuted for belief in resurrection right from the beginning. doesn’t seem like it at all

  20. Avatar
    johnmaxx  March 30, 2016

    McGrew starts with the a priori assumption that the narratives in the Gospels and other books in the NT are true. Of course from a scientific and/or historical POV, this is logically flawed foundation on which to build any theory. A historical theory must start with the admission that there is a possibility that, in this case, the NT narratives may or may not be historically accurate. Unfortunately, since the foundation on which Tim builds his hypothesis of “Undesigned Coincidences” (a term that seems intentionally redundant; aren’t genuine coincidences always, by definition, unintentional?) with a logically fallacious foundation, his only option is to sustain this house of cards with more logical fallacy. As a result, instead of getting the wonderfully nuanced and intelligent reasoning of the Sullivan/Harris debates, we had a not-so-intteligent, logically addled, poorly reasoned contender on the one side, and a very well-reasoned, intelligent Ehrman mostly shaking his head in bafflement. Not a recipe for a great debate, but entertaining (if a bit maddening) nonetheless.

    BTW, from my perspective, Tim’s fallacious reasoning reached its apogee when he attempted to support his premise by relaying the two WW2 Midway anecdotes. HIs ostensible intones here was to show where “Unintended Coincidences” support genuine historical events. He (with unbridled triumph in his voice) comes to the remarkable conclusion that the Japanese officers who see a small boat must support the story of a downed American pilot in his rubber raft. Huh? It’s like concluding: A man in San Diego claims he saw a UFO. On the same evening, there is Mexican story of unexplained bright lights in the sky. Therefore, it must be true that the man saw a UFO. Or: I contracted influenza from shaking someone’s hand and then rubbing my nose. Therefore, shaking hands and then rubbing my nose causes influenza. It’s using an apparent coincidence to support a fallacious conclusion. And used this flawed approach repeatedly throughout the debate. Tiresome and troubling.

    McGrew’s seriously flawed logic renders McGrews claims utterly meaningless.

You must be logged in to post a comment.