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Ehrman & Licona: Are the Gospels Historically Reliable? Part 2

Here is Part 2 of my debate with Mike Licona on whether the Gospels are historically reliable.  You won’t necessarily have to have seen Part 1 to make sense of this one; a lot of it involves penetrating questions from the audience (trying to trip us up!) which one or the other of us addressed.   Enjoy!

Mike Licona is author of Why Are There Differences in the Gospels and Evidence for God: 50 Arguments For Faith From The Bible, History, Philosophy, And Science

Part 2: Please adjust gear icon for 720p High-Definition:


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  1. Avatar
    godspell  March 24, 2018

    I couldn’t listen to all of this, but I sampled. I found the individual presentations better than the table discussions, which I think got bogged down a bit.

    Your lecture style is exceptionally good. I found little to disagree with there, regarding what you said, and of course you were on well-worn ground that you’ve covered in your writing, but there’s a big difference between writing something and saying it to a large audience.

    You and Licona clearly agree on many things, so the discussion ended up being what you disagree about. I don’t know if he’s a fundamentalist in the strict sense–seems more like he’s trying to modernize and rationalize the traditional evangelical take on scripture, which I think we can agree is a hopeless task, though not thankless, since he’s clearly successful in his field. (He probably gets more flak from other Christians about it than he got from you.)

    You tried to nail him down, and he kept wriggling off the hook, because (as you know) he can’t agree to your points without undercutting his entire position, not just as a scholar, but as a member of his religious community.

    Imagine being an anthropologist or archaeologist, arguing with a member of one of the Native American religions, none of which acknowledge that their ancestors came across the Bering land bridge many thousands of years ago, in spite of overwhelming evidence to that effect.

    They can’t acknowledge that, because that undercuts their entire cultural orientation, that the land is spiritually theirs (and puts them at a further disadvantage in dealing with the larger society their ancestors were unwillingly made a part of).

    You can still say they have a special connection to the land, created by long familiarity, but that’s not enough for them. They want everybody to admit they were here since the dawn of creation, and the land belongs to them (or they to it), no matter what the law says. That is their truth. It’s not a lie. It’s also not a fact.

    If you find the ancient preserved remains of somebody who is clearly not of their ancestry, they will claim that’s a lie, and he’s one of their people, and claim the right to bury him according to their rites. Human beliefs–theistic or otherwise–are constantly at war with our growing understanding of the facts. To give up ground is to lose it forever.

    So your task was fairly hopeless as well, and I perceived some frustration in you, in response to this. He could not accede to certain of your points without surrendering ground he doesn’t feel he has any right to surrender.

    That was my take, anyway. It was not a satisfying dialogue between sparring POV’s.

    • Avatar
      Iskander Robertson  April 7, 2018

      Dr Ehrman
      Assuming scribe wrote on behalf of john :
      how would we know what was johns and what was the scribes ?
      if john couldnt read the finnished product, how would he know what the scribe inserted into the text ?

      • Bart
        Bart  April 8, 2018

        I”m afraid I’m not sure what you’re asking.

        • Avatar
          Iskander Robertson  April 14, 2018

          But matthew has jesus meet the women and jesus repeats the same words “i am going BEFORE them….”

          the women tell

          Now the 11….

          the “now ” “moreover”

          “In addition”

          Would link back to the report from the women who would say

          “Jesus is going before you,he told us…there you will meet him”

          Matthew seems clear that they got the news and went which means that the first thing peter did was go to galilee, not come to see empty tomb.

          when you say “not so clear”
          Can you please explain.

          • Bart
            Bart  April 15, 2018

            Sorry — I don’t understand what you’re asking.

    • Avatar
      Iskander Robertson  April 7, 2018

      “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.[d] 6 Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, 7 that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.” 8 Then they remembered his words, 9 and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. 10 Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles.

      matthew :
      Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”

      While they were going….

      Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them

      Dr Ehrman, does the language matthew use imply that the message reached the 11 on the same day Jesus appeared to the women and told them to tell the 11?

  2. Avatar
    nbraith1975  March 24, 2018

    Bart – Do you believe that a strong argument as to why the Gospels were written long after Jesus’ death would be because Jesus was an apocalyptic preacher whose message was proclaimed for the specific generation in which he lived? In which case, by the time the Gospels were written, Jesus was to have already come back and established God’s kingdom.

    BTW – What’s glaringly missing from any of the Gospels is Jesus telling his disciples to make sure to write down his story and his message so those writings could be a witness for generations to come.

    • Bart
      Bart  March 25, 2018

      Yes, I don’t think Jesus expected the world to be around (or to need Gospels) for many years. And his followers saw no point recording his life for posterity.

  3. Avatar
    gwayersdds  March 24, 2018

    Wow! what a great debate. I learned a lot. Thanks for posting the video. I do have a couple of questions. If literacy was only 3%, was Jesus literate? Did he read from the torah in the synagogue or simply quote from memory and then say that “today the scriptures have been fulfilled”? Did Jesus also read/speak Hebrew as well as Aramaic. Could Paul and Peter converse in Hebrew since Peter probably didn’t speak Greek? I do think that you and Dr. Licona were speaking at cross purposes at times and perhaps making “reliable” and “accurate” into synonyms. My personal feelings are that historical accuracy is less important than trying to get the point across. The message is more important than the details. To me it is less important in the details of the crucifixion than in the fact that Jesus was crucified. Whether there was a stone rolled over the entrance to the tomb or a stone “plug” as suggested in the BAR magazine, is not crucial to the idea that Jesus was resurrected. We sometimes get to wrapped up in the details so that we can’t see the forest for the trees. Again thanks for a great debate.

    • Bart
      Bart  March 25, 2018

      I think it’s hard to say about Jesus. I’m pretty sure he couldn’t *write* — but could he read Hebrew? I used to think the answer was definitely yes, and now I’m not so sure. Maybe I’ll post on this. Peter would have spoken Aramaic, not Hebrew; there is not firm evidence that Paul could read Hebrew or speak Aramaic.

      • talmoore
        talmoore  March 25, 2018

        My conclusion — and, of course, this is just my opinion — is that one of the things that impressed Jesus’ disciples the most was his knowledge of Hebrew and Hebrew scripture. Let us, for a moment, assume that the gospel accounts of Jesus’ debates with the Pharisees is accurate. When Jesus quoted scripture to the Pharisees, did he quote the LXX (Greek)? Or did he quote the Targumim (Aramaic)? Or did he quote the Hebrew? Well, if he wanted to be taken seriously by a Pharisee, he would quote the Hebrew directly. Moreover, the Pharisees themselves would certainly quote the Hebrew, because it was THE language of scriptural debate. And if Jesus didn’t understand them, that would seriously undermine his credibility.

        But let us assume, instead, that Jesus never once spoke to an actual Pharisee during his mission. If Jesus had the pretense of being an actual prophet, within whom the Holy Spirit had taken purchase, in what language would he “prophesy”? Greek? Few of the people he was preaching to understood Greek. Would he prophesy in Aramaic? Possibly. But, again, what’s so impressive about that? A true sign that God is speaking through a prophet via the Holy Spirit is that the prophet is speaking the language of prophetic scripture, i.e. Hebrew. The notion that God is going to send the Holy Spirit to speak through a prophet in any other language than the holy liturgical language of the ancient Prophets, I’m sure, would have made that prophet look like a phoney. If you wanted to look like the real deal, you had to prophesy in Hebrew.

        Of course, all that changed after Jesus was killed, as Luke clarifies that after his death Jesus’ disciples were able to prophesy, via the gift of the Holy Spirit, in many languages. The so-called gift of speaking in tongues. Why was is necessary for Luke to point this out? Probably because up to that point Hebrew was the only acceptable language of prophecy. But once the great commission was purportedly issued at Pentecost, it was necessary for the apostles to preach the gospel to people who wouldn’t know Hebrew from Chinese. Hence, the shift away from Hebrew prophecy to preaching in other languages, especially Greek.

        • Rick
          Rick  March 27, 2018

          So, if Aramaic was the lingua Franca of say Galilee what would have been the rate of Hebrew literacy and speech? And I guess I should clarify literate or “speaking” as more than what a kid learns today for Bar Mitsvah….

          • talmoore
            talmoore  March 28, 2018

            Well, it’s hard to say. Most scholars make it seem like to an Aramaic speaker Hebrew might as well be Chinese. Not the case at all. While I wouldn’t go so far as to say they are mutually intelligible, but if an Aramaic speaker heard Hebrew, or vice versa, they might be able to get the gyst. I know from my own experience as a Hebrew speaker, if I read something in Aramaic I can often get the gyst. For instance, “I” in Hebrew is “ani” and in Aramaic “ana”. Not a wild difference. “Heaven” in Hebrew is “sh’mayim,” in Aramaic “sh’mayin”. The prepositional prefixes are almost all the same: b- is “in,” l- is “to” or “for,” m- is “of” or “from”. And so on and so forth. An analogy I often use is that Hebrew is to Aramaic what Portuguese is to Spanish. They’re more similar than they are different.

      • Avatar
        Antonio40  May 4, 2018

        Dear professor Ehrman, I have just read Jesus Interrupted, and well, I liked it so much I have become a member of your blog:

        If as you argue, to my agnostic layman satisfaction in that book, and also in your debate with Dr. Licona (who seems a nice guy BTW) the gospels are not reliable historical accounts (even with a thin kernel of historicity), and if we consider that there is virtually no account of Jesus youth (Luke account of child Jesus debating with the doctors of the law seems an invention outright), how do we know it´s not the case that a wealthy protector, perhaps admiring his talent, funded his education so that he could read (and perhaps write) the scriptures well? I do not find that implausible. And just because he was an skilled worker and not a scholar it does not neccesarily imply he could not have enough money to pay for an education or he was not talented enough to teach himself. Perhaps he was a fine tekton and made a lot of money (for one thing the gospel of Mark does not show he had financial difficulties)

        If we take that in Mark there are the most probable real words spoken by Jesus, some sayings in my opinion reveal not just an intelligent, but an educated man, as his knowledge of the scriptures and sophisticated parables show. So I think it may be a fair inference that he could read.

        Please forgive me if my english it´s not very good, my native language is spanish.

        All the best.

        • Bart
          Bart  May 6, 2018

          The problem I suppose would be that there weren’t any wealthy people in the small hamlet of Nazareth. If you’re interested you might see what we know about the socio-economic situation of Nazareth at the time, e.g., in the book Excavating Jesus by Jonathan Reed and John Dominic Crossan.

          • Avatar
            Antonio40  May 6, 2018

            Thank you very much, I´ll try to find that reference, because I can´t help being intrigued how it is possible that a proletarian artisan knew the Scriptures fairly well and was so sophisticated with his metaphors and skilled as a debater with elite debaters. The question is, if we doubt many things, and using historical methods that many things as reported are not probable (or why not, fabricated outright), why we should assume that the whole “son of a carpenter from a rural redneck hinterland” could beat lettered masters in their own game? I understand your (the scholars) methods, you explain them very well and for dummies like me, but on internal evidence I find hard to believe that Jesus was that skilled and knowledgeable without an education. Either his knowledge or debating skills were invented too, or perhaps he was not so poor. The muslims say that Muhhamad was illiterate (no doubt no enhance the alleged linguistic miracle of the Quran. So, it´s really that implausible that to turn Jesus into a proletarian from a rural hinterland would enhance the spell in the market, considering than the prospective market was mostly illiterate, too?

            Thank you very much.

          • Bart
            Bart  May 8, 2018

            You also have to remember that we don’t have direct access to Jesus’ words — they come to us only from Gsopels produced decades later based on oral traditoins in circulation for many many years.

  4. talmoore
    talmoore  March 24, 2018

    The ref clearly should have stopped the fight as soon as you had him on the ropes.

  5. Avatar
    forthfading  March 24, 2018

    I liked the audience question concerning how historians proceed when different criterion conflict with one another, and your response really helps show why there are so many conflicting viewpoints among scholars……”they’re weighing the evidence differently”.

    Are there wide ranging viewpoints among like-minded scholars (i.e. critical scholars, evangelical scholars)? By this I mean, would you weight the evidence significantly different from another critical scholar?

    Great debate! I can tell you guys had a great time!

  6. Avatar
    Stephen  March 24, 2018

    At least Prof Licona is honest. He admits in his closing statement that he is starting from a prior faith commitment that shapes all his scholarship. But isn’t Licona forgetting something? He spends all his time trying to fit the gospels into the genre of ancient history. Aren’t they supposed to be divine revelation appropriate for all times and places? And is the Resurrection of Jesus simply a historical factoid like Columbus sailing the ocean blue in 1492 or Lincoln delivering the Gettysburg address?

  7. Avatar
    godspell  March 24, 2018

    Regarding your repeated use of the word ‘zombie’–perhaps a bit culturally loaded? Rhetorically effective, I will concede, but you said it a lot. Obviously nobody in that culture believed in rotting corpses hauling themselves around, looking to feed on the living (technically, the creatures in Night of the Living Dead were referred to as ‘ghouls’–never zombies–that was a word people who saw the film used, equally misinterpreting Afro-Caribbean folk religion and George Romero).

    I don’t know if any early Christians literally believed the dead came out of their graves and walked around, but I would think, based on what we know of Jewish beliefs regarding resurrection, that if anyone did believe that, they believed the dead were in restored and perhaps immortal bodies, not rotting ones–which would beg the question of what happened to them. Taken up into heaven as well? They went back down into the grave, having had a nice constitutional?

    If we all agree that the New Testament authors used certain language to make a point, and intentionally changed stories they’d heard, I don’t think we can assume that this was meant literally. Licona seemed to be making that point, and you kept shooting him down.

    I think he was trying, much harder than the Mythicists you’ve debated (who spent much of their time attacking you online), to meet you somewhere in the middle.

    What do you think?

    • Bart
      Bart  March 25, 2018

      Yes, he wants to be a critical scholar *and* to argue that the Bible is highly accurate — at the same time. As to the dead walking, I do think Matthew really thought this happened. Nothing in the text itself suggests (to me) that he was thinking metaphorically. And it’s worth noting that millions of people today *also* think it happened!

      • Avatar
        godspell  March 25, 2018

        Well yes, and polls indicate a large number of people believe zombies–in the Romero/Walking Dead sense–are real.

        That’s not a religious belief. People of no religion at all believe in zombies–maybe as a result of some secret government experiment that went wrong (the explanation in Night of the Walking Dead is suggested to be an alien virus). People just believe in bizarre paranormal things because they like to. Bigfoot. Nessie. UFO’s.

        I would tend to agree that the things we can prove are so fascinating, we shouldn’t need to make things up. But we do anyway, and we always have, and if all organized religion, and all concept of a supreme being vanished from human consciousness forever, we still would, and it might even get worse.

        You might well be right about Matthew, but the fact remains, he would not have watched a modern film about zombies and said “That’s what I meant.” And the word in its original meaning doesn’t refer to dead people at all, but people who have been given a drug by a witch doctor to make them docile. In that sense, zombies probably do exist.

        People do sometimes actually rise up from graves–because they weren’t really dead, and were buried by mistake.

        That has led to all kinds of stories. That like all stories, grow in the telling.

      • Avatar
        rburos  March 26, 2018

        Most of my Catholic friends absolutely believe it happened–and that it was by itself proof of Christ’s divinity.

        • Avatar
          godspell  March 27, 2018

          I was raised Catholic, and I don’t remember the subject ever coming up in conversation, even once. Nor did any priest ever talk about it at mass.

          • Avatar
            rburos  March 28, 2018

            I’ve come across it in conversation twice.

      • Avatar
        Edward  April 17, 2018

        You should have asked Licona if the stories of Mary being visited by an angel, or the shepherds seeing and hearing angels, were likewise metaphorical inventions of the Gospel authors like the raising of many saints, that were added simply to make Jesus’ miraculous birth tale seems more “earth shaking.” As in the ending, so in the beginning of such Gospels.

        Also, the author of GMatthew certainly tries to make it seem like the raised saints story is historical based on how he rewrites the reactions of the Centurion and the guards.

        The earlier Gospel, GMark, says: “And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, heard his cry and saw how he died, he said, Surely this man was the Son of God! (NIV)”

        But GMatthew says: “When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened [the opening of tombs and raising of many saints] they were terrified, and exclaimed, ‘Surely he was the Son of God!'” (NIV)

        So GMatthew depicts the centurion along with those with him all “seeing” the “earthquake and all that had happened” (apparently including the earthquake, graves being opened and many saints being raised) and “they were terrified.”

        GMark depicts no terror, only a lone centurion standing “there in front of Jesus,” reacting to “his cry” and seeing “how he died.”

        GMatthew has the centurion “and those with him” exclaiming seemingly together, “Surely he was the Son of God,” i.e., “seeing all that had happened” around them, and reacting in “terror.” That’s not the GMark story.

      • Avatar
        Antonio40  May 4, 2018

        But when Paul went to preach to Athens (if we believe the account of Acts) when he talked about the resurrection the athenians laughed at him as you know very well. Why are we so sure all the people back then (and specially educated people, as the authors of the gospel were) could not be skeptical regarding miracles in general, specially the kind of miracles recorded in the alleged oral traditions and recorded in the gospels? After all, miracles do not occur. It is implausible that an educated greek speaking writer had a command of greek philosophic materialist doctrines (for example, Epicurus)?

        I do not find implausible that the “zombies” history was some kind of allegorical tale.

        • Bart
          Bart  May 6, 2018

          I would say there was a huge educational/world view difference between philosophically highly trained Stoic philosophers in Athens (not even Paul was close to their league) and the author of Matthew. But even so, if we want to think Matthew meant the passage allegorically, why not think Matthew thought that all the accounts of Jesus’ miracles, and his resurrection, were also allegorical? Mike Licona definitely does not want to go there!

          • Avatar
            Antonio40  May 6, 2018

            Well Licona is a trained apologist, and even he seems nice it´s quite funny when he struggles not to concede you some points outright (We all have to make a living). Nevertheless, I think he was implying (he can not speak too frankly) that this is a matter of degree. Psychosomathic healings are perhaps possible, and curing the blind and lame could have been staged, but that passage is too much even for a christian apologist. Did the jews really believe that Jonas survived three days in the belly of the fish? At least the elite? Furthermore, in JI you quote Ireneus saying that Papias was essentially a simpleton (he took literally things not mean to be taken so), so, it is possible that at least the elite and educated christians did not believe in miracles literally, and that perhaps they thought that was good for the plebs, so to speak.

          • Bart
            Bart  May 8, 2018

            Apart from a few actual atheists (very few indeed) and Epicureans, my sense is that most people in antiquity did believe in literal miracles.

  8. Avatar
    clongbine  March 24, 2018

    His analogy “Mark and Luke are the literal translation and Matthew is the NIV version” seems to be discounting that each narrative presents it’s own Jesus and ultimately it’s own agenda by “artistic license” which is less like faithful translations and more like fan fiction from three different authors using similar sources about a true event. About whom there has been a plethora of fan fiction (both then and now and in the in-between). This plethora was verified by the watchful eye of El Guapo.

    I have to admit that I was disappointed by the debate. His arguments were weak but his personal belief in them strong, which hurts his credibility, at least to me.

  9. Avatar
    Nichrob  March 24, 2018

    I thought an interesting retort to Licona’s point that there is some support for miracles because “you [Bart] debate groups who think Jesus never lived and you can’t convert them”. Or something like that…… I immediately thought “but that is not a miracle”…. The existence of a human being is not a miracle.. If he did not exist, that is not a miracle… It may prove AGAIN that people “believe” in myths…. And how is that a miracle? My point is, his arguments were sometime, well, silly…..

  10. Avatar
    clongbine  March 24, 2018

    Are the gospels biographies? Especially since they are not necessarily about him personally, or his life outside his ministry, and focus solely on his teachings, their meanings and the religious significance of what he did during his ministry. And if they are not biographies then the historical accuracy argument becomes secondary to genre placement and the writer’s intent (which may be inferred if properly placed in the right genre). Fundamentalists will probably ALWAYS require the gospels to be historically accurate and absolutely inerrant because of the theology that has already been established on that premise.

    • Bart
      Bart  March 25, 2018

      They certainly aren’t like *modern* biographies! But yes, in terms of genre, they are most like *ancient* biographies, which were always *meant* to be accurate, even if they often were not.

      • Avatar
        godspell  March 27, 2018

        I’m always a bit bemused about how Plutarch seriously discusses whether Romulus and Remus were suckled by a she-wolf as babies.

        I don’t think he believes it, but he won’t dismiss it out of hand.

        • Bart
          Bart  March 28, 2018

          And fed by a hummingbird!!

          • Avatar
            godspell  March 28, 2018

            We shouldn’t feel too superior–going back to the zombie thing, I found a YouGov poll that says 15% of Americans think it’s possible the dead might actually rise and start attacking people.

            And most of them, asked how it might happen, give what they clearly believe to be scientific reasons. Pretty sure the ones who say “Because when hell has no more room the dead will rise” are kidding, but they are a very small percentage of that 15%. NOBODY cites Matthew, or any other book of the New Testament.

            Okay, we can stop talking about zombies now. 😉

  11. Avatar
    Hume  March 24, 2018

    I hope your standard poodle is doing okay! If it is not, accept my condolences. As I put down more and more of my pets (2 this month!), I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s a service and a very humane thing to do when the suffering is to such a high extent that it cannot be fixed or relieved. All the best!

    • Bart
      Bart  March 25, 2018

      Sorry to hear about your pets. Billy is doing well just now, but he has an aggressive bladder cancer and we don’t know how much longer he will be relatively pain-free.

  12. Avatar
    Jana  March 24, 2018

    Thank you.

  13. Avatar
    Mark57  March 24, 2018

    Wow, you catch him in one bs after another. lol As a total amateur I found the back and forth question/answer most interesting because you can literally catch him red handed in his blatantly flawed logic.

  14. Avatar
    Pattylt  March 25, 2018

    Is “compression” a valid historical method? I think I understand what Licona means by the term but I’m unsure if it is a valid point. How do you recognize compression within Luke’s story or is Luke’s story compressed because it is different from the others? It just sounds like an apologetic ploy to me but I am curious if it is valid.

    • Bart
      Bart  March 27, 2018

      It’s not one that I’m familiar with scholars ever using, but I don’t see anything wrong with it per se. It’s another way of saying that the text cannot be literally correct because of its use of a literary technique.

  15. Avatar
    pueblo2  March 25, 2018

    It’s painful really to hear and watch Christian apologists spout some rather illogical and twisted justifications for what amounts to a denial of reality. However, I didn’t realize until this morning that there is quite a personal backstory to the zombie resurrection claims of Matthew that you zeroed-in with Professor Licona. Now I know that the palpable anguish that Licona demonstrated on-camera flows from a personally discomfiting experience for Dr. Licona. I almost feel sorry for him now knowing the following (which I have retyped from David Fitzgerald’s Jesus: Mything in Action):

    In his 2010 book, The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach, Licona briefly questioned the historical reality of this unique incident that immediately follows Jesus’ death on the cross–an event found nowhere else but in Matthew’s gospel:
    “… and the graves were opened, and many bodies of the saints which slept arose, and came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many.” (Matt. 27:52-53).
    Many Jewish saints arose the dead, came of their graves, walked into the streets of Jerusalem and appeared to many. What’s not to believe? Despite being a specialist in defending the resurrection, a mass grave exodus of reanimated saints strolling down downtown Jerusalem–completely unnoticed by anyone else in history–was just a little too hard for even Licona to accept. So he made the modest suggestion that this ‘strange little text,’ as he called it, might–might–only be metaphorical apocalyptic imagery.
    Naturally, such blasphemy triggered a paroxysm of outrage from fellow evangelical apologists like Norman Geisler, who accused Licona of denying the full inerrancy of Scripture and insisted that he should recant a view that was “unorthodox, non-evangelical, and a dangerous precedent for the rest of evangelicalism.” The president of Louisville, Kentucky’s Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Albert Mohler, praised Licona’s book as a masterful defense of the historicity of the resurrection; yet spent most of his review criticizing what he called Licona’s “shocking and disastrous” questioning of Matthew’s mass resurrection.
    At least two Southern Baptist entities, including the New Orleans seminary and the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, rescinded invitations for Licona to speak at their apologetics conferences. And a year later in 2011, Licona resigned from both as a research professor at Southern Evangelical Seminary and as the apologetics coordinator for the North American Mission Board. Licona said he offered to resign rather than cast a shadow over the mission board and its president, and the NAMB swiftly eliminated Licona’s position.

    In Christianity Today, New Testament professor Craig Blomberg complained of “the tragedy of ‘witch hunts’ of this nature” and accused Licona’s critics of “going after fellow inerrantists with whom they disagree and making life miserable for them for a long time in ways that are unnecessary, inappropriate, and counterproductive to the important issues of the Kingdom.”

    Now I realize that your seemingly milquetoast advice to the audience at this event to learn to think for themselves and do a little wider reading and questioning about the basis of their various worldly beliefs is far more radical advice than I first imagined. It’s downright incendiary talk. I hope you started or enouraged at least a few on to the path of some critical thinking.

    • Avatar
      godspell  March 27, 2018

      Thanks for finding this. I had a very strong feeling Licona was getting it much worse from his corner than he was from Bart’s. I really did feel for the man, because he was clearly trying to find middle ground, and that’s a noble aspiration. It just may not be possible with regards to fundamentalism. (including atheist fundamentalism, which Bart has also encountered, whether he calls it that or not).

      Fundamentalism is not all religion. It’s not most religion. And it’s not open much to compromise. Clarence Darrow, grilling William Jennings Bryan at the Scopes Trial, asked him if he really believed the Deluge destroyed all life except what was on the Ark. “I believe the fish may have lived,” he replied.

      From his perspective, a major concession.

  16. Avatar
    Wilusa  March 25, 2018

    Very enjoyable! But I wish you’d challenged him on the “evidence” Jesus rose from the dead.

  17. Avatar
    hoshor  March 25, 2018

    If you just analyzed the debate from presentation alone and ignored the content, Bart comes off as someone who knows the content inside/out like the back of his hand and is speaking from the heart. Mike comes off like he is reading a carefully prepared set of thoughts straight from the paper, as if to making sure he will not make a mistake.

  18. Avatar
    dragonfly  March 25, 2018

    Nice work with the plug for the blog at the end.

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    NancyGKnapp  March 25, 2018

    Now that I know to read horizontally and let each author tell the story from his own perspective, it’s easier to compare historic events. Where there is obvious contradiction, we don’t have a reliable account of how an event unfolded in history. That does not mean it lacks spiritual truth.

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    Britt  March 26, 2018

    Dr. Ehrman, I thought both you and Dr. Licona made some good points, with the debate simply boiling down to what degree of accuracy is acceptable in determining historicity. For Dr. Licona, the Gospels are “accurate enough” and he allows for more speculation (maybe the disciples had scribes) while you want more specificity and proof. At times it seemed you were both talking past each other, not really debating the same thing because you each have different agendas. Dr. Licona is looking for enough accuracy to support his faith (his example being his everyday watch was plenty accurate for his needs, but not NASA’s), while you are looking for pure history, i.e. NASA’s needs. An example might be your assertion that each gospel writer had something different to say, while he asserted they differed in style and degree of accuracy. Would you agree with my analysis of your debate? As an aside, what did you think of Dr. Licona’s assertion that Mark presents Jesus as God, but not through Jesus’s words but rather through His deeds? I thought that was an interesting point.

    • Bart
      Bart  March 27, 2018

      The question is: accurate enough for *what*? My view is that they are inaccurate in very big things indeed (e.g., the question of whether Jesus called himself divine). But yes, I do think Mark’s Gospel understands Jesus as divine in *some sense*.

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