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Ehrman-Bass Debate Did the Historical Jesus Claim to be Divine

On September 18th, 2015 I had a debate with Justin Bass on the question “Did the Historical Jesus Really Claim to Be God?”  As you might imagine, I argued that the answer is “Decidedly No.”  He argued “Decidedly Yes.”  The debate was held at the Collin College Preston Ridge Conference Center  in Frisco, TX.  The event was hosted by “1042 Church” http://www.1042church.com where Justin Bass is the lead pastor.

Most of the audience came from members of Justin’s congregation and friends they brought.  It was a very kind and receptive crowd for most of the debate.  During the debate I had mixed feelings about it.  I’m never quite sure if this kind of thing is worth it, since it seems that there is scarcely any chance of getting anyone to think seriously about changing whatever views they already have.  But I keep telling myself that if I can simply get a couple of people to think more deeply about an issue, see the other side, and possibly realize that their views are deeply problematic, I’ve done a good thing.   I’d be happy to know your opinion about the matter.

Pre-debate Post: https://ehrmanblog.org/live-stream-the-debate-tonight/

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Were the Disciples Martyred for Believing in the Resurrection?
Readers’ Mailbag December 11, 2015



  1. Avatar
    kentvw  December 12, 2015

    Just a quick comment that I really enjoyed the debate. Also, just checked Youtube and the views are at 8661 on this debate. I am sure that you realize this but the “audience” is far larger than those that attended.

  2. Avatar
    BibleResearcher  December 12, 2015

    Dear Prof Ehrman,
    There are people allover the globe who are following up on your work because they certainly DO believe that your efforts and research matter! So when you say: ” I’m never quite sure if this kind of thing is worth it”, please rest assured that their eagerness to learn more from you is not fading away; having you produce such intellectual debates to encourage the other side in engaging in the process of Reasoning with the facts you are presenting to them is quite an invaluable opportunity that is nowhere else to find outside the scope of your endeavors Sir. You are adding a unique challenging perspective that is literally bringing people from all backgrounds (mainly Christianity and Islam) together in an attempt to be truly faithful to the doctrine of Sola Scriptura. I’ll will patch this comment later on with more thoughts on the reaction of your peer during the debate, I will re-watch it soon.

  3. Avatar
    magpie  December 12, 2015

    You are so generous with your time, of which I guess you have only the standard twenty four hours a day the rest of us share. You should feel free to be set limits on these debates to those in which you are most interested or cover new material. I have watched many hours of debates and I think that format is not particularly useful. I would much prefer to have conversations between participants In which exchanges are more immediate and points can be debated without the restrictions imposed by the “debate” format.

  4. Avatar
    Omar6741  December 12, 2015

    I think you are basically saying that things are not as comfortable as the inerrantists would have us believe. And that is a good thing to point out. A great deal of academic work, sadly, in every field — leaving aside honorable exceptions such as yourself and others — is a kind of propaganda in disguise.

  5. John4
    John4  December 12, 2015

    Well, since you asked, lol,….

    I do believe, Bart, that you did a good thing in debating Bass. I believe that you did a good thing whether or not you got “a couple of people to think more deeply about an issue, see the other side, and possibly realize that their views are deeply problematic….” At Bass’s invitation and at his expense you witnessed to the truth before his congregation (as well as to a few of us reprobates, lol, who infiltrated). In return for your troubles, he paid you a substantial fee which you then donated to your fine charities. How could this not be a good thing?

    Now, whether or not it was worth it though, that’s another question. If you enjoyed doing it, I’d say it was. If you didn’t, probably not. And if, as you report, you found yourself during the debate having *mixed* feelings, well heck, Bart, it sounds to me then like it’s time to raise your fee!

    Just a thought. 🙂

  6. Avatar
    Judith  December 12, 2015

    I wonder if there are worthier opponents who would at least stick to the debate topic. But then if they did that, they would lose in such a glaringly pathetic way, failing Jesus among all those Christians in the audience.

  7. Avatar
    rdglaze  December 13, 2015

    Dr Ehrman I too was a deeply orthodox Christian.After reading the Bible over 15 times I too started to see discrepancies Only thru your books did I finally had too change my belief systems Thanks you’re an inspiration.Bob

  8. Avatar
    Dshane  December 13, 2015

    I think its important that you identify your goal –
    Do you want to convert Christians?
    Do you want to educate Christians? Everyone?
    Are you doing these debates to raise money for your charity?
    Do you debate because its fun for you?
    A combination, I’m sure, but how do they rank?

    These debates, I feel, were best summed by Dr. Schochet (who was debating Dr. Michael Brown on Jesus being the messiah): they are a complete waste of time since neither side is going to change. I also find it amusing that when I see these debates on an atheist/agnostic/etc… channel “Bart Ehrman destroys…” and when the same video is on a Christian channel “Bart Ehrman WAS destroyed…” (haha!)

    I personally enjoy your lectures and the “fireside chats” (when several scholars sit down and share their opinions). At any rate, even if you stop debating please don’t give up on sharing your knowledge with the world!

    • Bart
      Bart  December 14, 2015

      I’m pretty clear on my objectives. It is NOT to convert people (or deconvert them!). But it is to get people to THINK and be more reasonable in their beliefs. And to raise money for charity. Without either one, I simply wouldn’t do them. Life’s too short….

      • Avatar
        Dshane  December 14, 2015

        It seems to me then that participating in these debates serve your purpose as you are
        -raising awareness to an interested audience
        -raising money for charity
        (Good on you for doing both btw)

        Therefore, I believe you should continue doing them even though “the deck will always be stacked against you.”

  9. Avatar
    haoleboy26  December 13, 2015

    This was another really interesting debate, although my all time favorite is the one with Dan Wallace on your home turf. The detailed information about different perspectives on the meaning of the “original text” and the issues related to 2 Corinthians was really interesting, and something Wallace never adequately dealt with. An observation I have on the debate with Bass is that seemed to fixate on the idea that the reason you rejected Jesus as having self-identified as God is that Jesus never came out and said the specific statement “I am God” (or the Greek equivalent thereof). He seemed to have missed that you repeated listed statements from John as being equivalent claims to divinity: Before Abraham was, I am; the Father and I are one; etc. He seemed to have a hard time getting your position that the Son of Man sayings in the synoptics are not equivalent to the sayings in John, thereby leading to the paradox, if Jesus went around claiming to be God, why did the synoptic authors not quote this? I found your position quite clear and compelling. One of the really interesting parts of the debate was on the topic of modalism. My impression is that your disagreement on the issue hinges on whether the name Yaweh refers only to God the Father, or could refer to God as a Trinity. Is there any reason to think the latter is possible for early Christians?

    • Bart
      Bart  December 14, 2015

      Yes, some people think Yahweh refers to the triune God. I’ve never seen it that way, since in the Hebrew Bible Yahweh is seen addressing another divine being (or more). E.g. Ps. 110: Yahweh says to “my Lord” “you are my son….”

  10. Avatar
    Omar6741  December 13, 2015

    The problem Justin faces here is that it is hard to know much about a man when the sources are anonymous and don’t tell us how they got their information, let alone know whether he claimed to be God.

  11. Epicurus13
    Epicurus13  December 13, 2015

    It was hard to watch the whole thing because you were pulverizing him so bad. It looked like an leisurely intellectual walk in the park with the controls set on cruise. Obi-Wan Kenobi schooling young Luke. I did eventually finish it, I guess it was like not being able to look away from a traffic accident. I hate to ask a question that may be overly asked of you and a bore to hear, but do you think the Ehrman / Price debate will ever happen ? I watched the White / Price debate and really enjoyed it. Price seems like he would be a good spirited, fun and a intellectually worthy opponent for you. I personally dig all your talks / debates and have watched most more then once and turned others on to them that never heard of you before. I think you just need to mix it up a bit with those you debate. Just my 2 cents. As always, thanks for sharing your knowledge.

    • Epicurus13
      Epicurus13  December 13, 2015

      Correction. The sentence where I said, I think you just need to mix it up with those you debate was ill formed. I meant mix it up with those you ” take on to debate.” I hope that makes better sense. Is there a edit option for posts ?

      • Bart
        Bart  December 14, 2015

        I’m afraid you need to edit your own posts before you post them!!

  12. Avatar
    kaasefa  December 13, 2015

    I watched the debate. Excellent academic approach to the topic as usual. Seemed to be more preaching than reasoning on the other side. Am curious to read some of your research on memory that you spoke about; is there a book or place to find this? Am also wondering whatever happened to this so called 1st century manuscript of Mark that had some hype around it, was that a bluff? Love your work and am hoping to be a student some day if I can afford the class.

    • Bart
      Bart  December 14, 2015

      My book on memory will be out in March! First-century Mark is still waiting to see the light of published day….

  13. Avatar
    Mhamed Errifi  December 13, 2015

    Hello Bart

    I have seen you in many lectures and debates stating that there is contradiction on jesus death . John’s account says that Jesus died before the Passover meal while Mark’s account places Jesus’ death after the Passover meal. recently I came cross blog claiming that there is no contradiction when we compare Numbers 28 with Exodus 12. are you aware of this argument and how will you refute it


    • Bart
      Bart  December 14, 2015

      The problem does not involve a contradiction with Numbers 28 and Exodus 12. It’s much simpler than that. Did Jesus die the afternoon before the Passover meal was eaten (as in John) or the morning after it was eaten (Mark)?

  14. Avatar
    Kschramm10  December 13, 2015

    Dr. Ehrman,

    I live a few miles from Collin College, and would have attended the debate if I had known about it! I attend Community Unitarian Universalist Church, also a few miles from the college. There are several other Ehrman fans there who would also have attended to support you.

    I am a new subscriber to your blog, though I have been a reader for several years.

    Thanks for all you do to spread truth and encourage thought instead of belief.

  15. talmoore
    talmoore  December 13, 2015

    Dr. Ehrman, I wish you would debate more mythicists. Mythicism has become the scourge of the atheist community. Indeed, it has gotten so that bad that I have even been accused of being a crypto-believer and an apologist shill by other atheists simply because I think that Jesus the man actually existed! In some online atheists groups a mythicist belief is almost a litmus test for acceptance. I don’t believe this is simply an innocent misconception because it makes us normally reasonable skeptics look like kooky conspiracy theorists, therefore, ultimately hurting the secular cause. I blame, in particular, that clown Richard Carrier for much of this pernicous nonsense, and I wish sensible non-believing scholars such as yourself would expose this misconception before it does irreparable intellectual harm. At the very least, I wish you would do Seth Andrews’ The Thinking Atheist podcast, because his audience often complains that he too often gives a voice to mythicists such as Carrier and Robert Price without counter argument, but when confronted about it Andrews says that he has asked you to come on the podcast to rebut but you have refused. 🙁

    • Bart
      Bart  December 14, 2015

      I’ll be debating Robert Price in the spring. I’ve always resisted! But he’s a good guy and it should be fun.

      • talmoore
        talmoore  December 14, 2015

        I wish you would debate Carrier and utterly destroy him. He’s patient zero of the mythicism epidemic.

      • Avatar
        Dshane  December 14, 2015

        I’m so looking forward to a Dr. Ehrman vs. Dr. Price debate! Coincidently, I’m watching a William Lane Craig – Robert Price debate right now and it looks like you got your work cut out for you! Dr. Price speaks eloquently and presents a well formulated case – he is a formidable opponent for the Bartman (unlike Justin Bass in this debate)!

        Has the date/time/loc been set for this event?

      • Avatar
        Rthompsonmdog  December 14, 2015

        Is the date and location for the debate set?

  16. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  December 13, 2015

    I have watched many of your youtube debates online and wonder the same thing you ask, but maybe these debates are more helpful to people “online” than they are to such a live audience. Moreover, I have seen your youtube debates referred to many times as being of crucial importance on various websites. Hence, these debates, due to their youtube distribution, may be more helpful to others than what you feel while you are actually debating.

    I have just finished reading “Making Sense of the Bible” by Adam Hamilton. Some readers of this website might find this book of interest, I had been looking for some books where the authors understand the basics of historical Biblical criticism and still make reasonable arguments for Christianity, albeit, a moderate, not a fundamentalist, Christianity . This book does just that. As a bonus, the author, like Dr, Ehrman, writes clearly and concisely. I am not advocating Hamilton’s theological position, namely that the Bible, although not perfect, contains all of the information that is necessary for salvation, but it was important for me to understand how a reasonable person can get to such a theological position. My main disagreement with Hamilton is that I think the “inconsistencies” in the Bible, as capably demonstrated by Dr. Ehrman in “Jesus Interrupted,” are more than “occasional” as Hamilton states on page 168 and are substantial enough to raise serious questions about the historical reliability of much that is in the Gospels. Finally, at one point, Hamilton contends that ten of the disciples were put to death for their faith and I don’t think there is any evidence that this happened.

    Anyway, I think most fundamentalists need a “bridge,” like Hamilton’s book, before they can fully appreciate
    your books and debates..

  17. Avatar
    John  December 13, 2015

    Hard to fight ignorance and superstition!

  18. Avatar
    Jimmy  December 13, 2015

    Keep doing it. By putting stuff out you are impacting more than you think.

  19. Avatar
    bwarstler  December 13, 2015

    Hi Bart,
    I think it is definitely worth it. When I was struggling with my faith, it was precisely these types of debates, along with books, that led me to know what scholars know. Please keep doing them.

  20. Avatar
    Hon Wai  December 13, 2015

    These recorded debates posted on Youtube are of value to a far larger audience than those present in the debates. It is plausible very few members of Justin Bass’ congregation will be persuaded to think differently from the debate. But there are many open-minded seekers of truth out there (whoever have ears, let them hear), seeking information online, who would find the substantiative engagement in this sort of debate illuminating, willing to evaluate the evidence and arguments from all sides. Don’t get frustrated with evasiveness and obfuscation of your fundamentalist opponents, instead tailor your answers with details and argumentation of value to seekers out there.

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