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Modern Defenders of the Faith: Why Not Just Tell the Truth?

Next week I’m off to give a talk at an evangelical Christian conference that is dealing with contradictions in the Gospels; the other speakers will be explaining either why they don’t actually exist or why they are completely insignificant or how they can be comfortably explained given ancient writing practices or … or some other point that will assure their committed Christian audience that there’s nothing really to worry about.  It will be in Chicago and is called the Defenders Conference.

I quite admire the organizers of the conference because they genuinely want to hear the other side from me.  As y’all know, I think there are serious contradictions in the Gospel that cannot be reconciled or explained away, and these demonstrate that the Gospels are not historically reliable.  I’m not saying (I’m NOT saying) that there is *nothing* reliable in the Gospels.  Of course there are lots and lots of reliable materials in the Gospels (the key is figuring out which ones they are).  But anyone who thinks they give a fully reliable account of what Jesus really said and did — not just in small details but also in very big matters — I think is completely wrong.

I’m known to have that view, of course, and am regularly attacked as the Bad Guy (or rather, the Scion of Satan) by Christian “apologists” (= defenders of the faith), since I was once one of them and then went over to the dark side.  Or as I tell them, I finally “saw the light”!  (If they’re friends, they laugh about it.  I have one friend, a decidedly *not* evangelical Methodist minister, who says I went from being “born again” to being “dead again.”)   I don’t expect to be attacked personally at the conference.   I told the organizers that I’d be happy to present my views thoughtfully but I didn’t want to do so if the point was to rip me apart in my absence.

That happens sometimes.  Just recently I’ve had a number of blog members ask me about comments made about me by theologian William Lane Craig, where he says things that in fact just aren’t true.  Just now I was browsing through the blog looking for old posts on something else (my next thread: how we can establish what the authors of the New Testament *originally* wrote, and how close I think we can get to the “originals”) when I inadvertently ran across this post from many years ago, which I’d forgotten about.  It’s worth posting again, ’cause I feel the same way still and it keeps happening.  Why don’t people who want to attack false views simply tell the truth?

Here’s the post.  As you’ll see, I was in a bit of a mood….


I have to admit, I sometimes get a bit tired of being the whipping boy for fundamentalist and conservative evangelical  Christian apologists.   If they would deal with my views head on and actually get the facts of my life right, it would be one thing.  But when they publicly accuse me of holding, or having held, positions that I never did – when they are flat our wrong in what they say about me — it gets under my skin.

The first time I noticed this in a big way was when …

The post gets a bit hot after this.  Those who belong to the blog can see it.  Those who do not, not.  Why not join?  You get five posts a week, almost all of them directly on the history and literature of early Christianity.  Tons of information, for a very small fee – and the entire amount goes to charity.

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  1. Avatar
    ChrisHembree  October 7, 2019

    WLC has a history of taking famous atheists and agnostics out of context. He made an egregious error towards Richard Dawkins and Lawrence Krauss as well. He did 3 Reasonable Faith podcast episodes using a error filled, bootleg copy of the audio only, from the up coming documentary by Krauss and Dawkins, “The Unbelievers” (2013). He had to apologize on the back page of his website, to “make up” for the mistakes.

  2. Avatar
    VaulDogWarrior  October 7, 2019

    Doesn’t Licona admit to some historical innacurracies while holding to the idea that the Gospels are still in some way inspired?

    • Bart
      Bart  October 8, 2019

      Well, he thinks that some passages (the zombies in Matthew 25) are not literal descriptions of what happened.

  3. Avatar
    VaulDogWarrior  October 7, 2019

    If the Bible can be wrong about one thing, who’s to say it can’t be wrong about another thing? He says faith in God is at the centre. Faith in what God? Where does he get this knowledge and how can he determine its accuracy? If he says “the inner witness of the Spirit ” how does he know he’s not delusional? If he says the Bible how does he know it’s correct about a topic that cannot be tested?

  4. Avatar
    flshrP  October 7, 2019

    Craig forgets to mention the crucial item of faith that’s at the center of the “web of theological beliefs”. Namely, the belief that humans have an invisible, immaterial, and immortal soul. Once an individual realizes that the chance that such a soul exists is billions to one against, then the entire edifice of the Christian faith is demolished. No supernatural order. No eternal afterlife. No need for salvation theory. No rewards and punishments after death. No cheating death by fantasies of heaven, hell, devils. Death is the end of human existence. Beyond death is non-existence.

    • Avatar
      RorscHaK  October 17, 2019

      I think materialistic Christianity is possible, since the afterlife is about resurrection of the body instead of a disembodied soul.

  5. Avatar
    RICHWEN90  October 7, 2019

    Truth tellers are never going to be very popular, I fear. Ideally, we would all embrace a cogent argument, an evidence based critique of what we believe to be true, so that we can learn where we went wrong and understand the evidence in favor of an alternative. Ideally, we would all be objective and would have no emotional attachment to our beliefs or opinions. We would be like analytical engines, evaluating data without personal bias. But instead we’re human, and we just don’t function like that, as a rule. I really admire people who aren’t afraid to go where the evidence leads them. They seem to be few and far between. But such people are NEEDED!! Unfortunately, they are also going to upset a lot of apple carts, and take a lot of flack.

    • Avatar
      Bewilderbeast  October 8, 2019

      You said it! Telling the truth is such a downer! People could lose their Lear jets from these people obsessed with facts!

  6. Avatar
    Judith  October 7, 2019

    “As y’all know”: second paragraph and second line!!!
    Dr. Ehrman, with that – and you most certainly said it – we southerners can claim you now for our very own. 🙂

  7. Avatar
    mombird903  October 7, 2019

    Oh Bart, the only point to be made in the matter of the resurrection is this; if one is dead there is no way the body can resurrect. It defies the rules of physics. The body decomposes and after three days well seriously, one is dead and not coming back. Those are biological, physical, and realistic facts that apply to us all as everyone knows. Even children know this. As a child I had to think of the resurrection as a spiritual or metaphorical one although I didn’t know to put it in those terms. The folks who insist that Jesus had a physical resurrection are just, IMO, either delusional, crazy, in denial, cultists, believe in magic, stupid, hard core Catholics and Christians whose brains are atrophied, or happy to be mired in conspiracy and non-sense, and just plain flat earthers. It is almost not worth the bother to debate them because it is a waste of time and energy. I give you credit for even bothering.

    • Avatar
      jma12b  October 10, 2019

      Do you know what the definition of a miracle is? Christians believe exactly what you are saying – that resurrection is a suspension of the natural laws (physics, biology, etc.) by God in a supernatural way.

  8. Avatar
    epistememe  October 7, 2019

    When you can’t argue the facts because they go against you…many resort to discrediting the person. I have observed WLC is getting worse in this regard and I suspect it is an indication of the increasing cognitive dissonance that he needs to suppress. His schtick is well past its due date and is starting to smell to such a degree that even his ardent fans sense a loss of gravitas. That and his age is catching up with him and he’s just getting nastier. Chin up Dr. Ehrman, they all know you are making a substantial difference with your efforts and that is why they resort to lying about you.

  9. Avatar
    Todd  October 7, 2019

    In the last paragraph you use two key phrases: “the correct approach to Christian truth” and “I would be a believer still.” When I see those. Terms thrown around I ask myself what the speaker means by “correct” approach, “Christian truth,” and simply what is meant by being a “believer?” What do these words mean? Even my own son, who is an evangelical minister, will not discuss religion with me since we disagree on so many of the issues you mentioned in today’s blog. So, what exactly is is we are to believe, what is Christian truth” and what exactly is a “believer” supposed to believe in order to reach “salvation” ( another word with many meanings). I have been told that there are nearly 40,000 different forms of Christianity in the world…are they all wrong except for the one true faith, whatever that is.

    If so, maybe you could write an article sometime giving us the fundamental beliefs we need to believe to be loved by God…oops, maybe we already have that list in “fundamentalism” 🙂 … thank you for your good articles.

  10. Avatar
    Damian King  October 7, 2019

    Hey Bart, here is what I wanted to ask you. In all 3 Gospels we see this, but let us use Mark, for example. In Mark 1:3 John is said to have fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah by being a forerunner to Jesus Christ. In this verse, Mark quotes Isaiah to refer to Jesus in this way: “Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.” In this verse, John is the one proclaiming, that they are to prepare the way for Jesus. The term “Lord” here refers to Jesus, and the term “him” refers to Jesus too. This is significant because this passage is a quotation of Isiah 40:3, which states: “prepare the way for the Lord (Yahweh) make straight in the desert a highway for our God.”

    Do you believe that Matthew, Mark and Luke are applying the pronouns of Yahweh to Jesus? And is this significant?


    • Bart
      Bart  October 8, 2019

      No, definitely not. Jesus is the Lord, but he is not God the Father. (Saying that he is was one of the earliest officially-declared heresies of early Christianity, sometimes called modalism or patripassianism). Remember that in these Gospels Jesus also quotes the Psalm, “The LORD said to my Lord” in order to show that the messiah is actually the Lord. But obviously the LORD is not talking to himself when he speaks to “my Lord.” So there are two beings: Yahweh (The LORD) and another divine being, the Lord. Both are lords, but they are different people.

      • Avatar
        Damian King  October 8, 2019

        So you do not think that Yahweh was the name of the deity, while Father was the person? Because, in Greek Septuagint, until the 3rd century AD, it was common, from what I understand from Wikipedia (hey, we can’t all be that gifted), Tetragramaton was regularly used in the place of “Lord”. So if Luke is literally saying that Jesus is Lord (translated from YHWH), what would he have to say that would convince you that he is YHWH?

        • Bart
          Bart  October 9, 2019

          I think in biblical times they hadn’t worked out the categories and definitions at all (“person” “nature” “essence” etc.). Most of these authors believed in the God of Israel and also thoguht that Jesus too was God. For some of them that’s because God made Jesus God. For others he had been a kind of divine angel before he came into the world. For others he was in some sense fully divine before he came into the world. Each author had his own view, many of them at odds. It was only much, much later that anyone came up with the doctrine of the Trinity. Luke himself did not read Hebrew, so he did not know the name Yahweh. When the Hebrew uses the name Yahweh, the Septuagint sometimes translates that as “God” and sometimes as “Lord” and — oterht things? I don’t know, I haven’t checked fully. “Lord” is also in the Septuagint used of other beings — humans, angels, etc., when translating another Hebrew work, Adonai. So Luke wouldn’t know that there is a special word Yahweh different from the word Adonai, both being translated the same way in his Bible. he just knows the word Lord (Greek kurios). For him, Jesus is kurios. And God is kurios. And Jesus is God. And God is God But Jesus is not the same God as the God that he prays to. Luke hasn’t worked out yet how to work all that out, in a systematic way. I cover all this at length in my book How Jesus Became God. have you read it yet? It would be right up your alley.

      • Avatar
        brenmcg  October 8, 2019

        But Nicene christians werent committing the heresy of modalism when they said both the father and Jesus were God.

        Mark tells us the messiah is lord right after telling us god is lord and there are no lords but him.

        • Bart
          Bart  October 9, 2019

          That’s right. They were both God. But they weren’t the same person. That’s one of the major points of Nicea.

          • Avatar
            brenmcg  October 10, 2019

            But why not say mark thought they were both lord but not the same person?

          • Bart
            Bart  October 11, 2019

            Sorry — when I hear anyone say “person” with respect to the godhead, I tend to think they are using it in the technical sense that it came to have in the trinitarian debates of the fourth century. If you mean, “he is not identical” then I agree.

          • Avatar
            brenmcg  October 12, 2019

            But “person” and “being” werent given a technical sense in the fourth century – they just needed some words to describe how the father and jesus could both be god but not be identical to each other.
            This paradoxical idea had to have originated somewhere – isnt marks 12:29-37 an excellent candidate for this origination?

          • Bart
            Bart  October 13, 2019

            I’m afraid I don’t know what you mean. Of course they were given technical meanings in the theological debates of the fourth century. Have you read the literature from the period?

          • Avatar
            brenmcg  October 13, 2019

            No not all of it 🙂 – hypostasis and ousia weren’t though precisely defined in the fourth century (they still aren’t), what was needed was only an agreement on what two words to use.

            The theological doctrine of the same but different is more ancient than the 4th century. Why not say it goes back to Mark where he tells us God and the messiah are both lord despite the fact he’s just told us there is only one lord?

          • Bart
            Bart  October 14, 2019

            Think you’re not right about that. The precise terms precisely were debated. That means different people did have clear ideas. Just because they didn’t convince others of their particular definitions doesn’t mean they didn’t come up with them. And no one was doing that in the first century, not even close. And of course it does go back, not to Mark, but to Paul. But so do hundreds of other views that were contrary to the ones that emerged.

          • Avatar
            brenmcg  October 15, 2019

            I think ousia was just defined to mean that way in which the father and son are the same and hypostasis that way in which they are different. But that using them in those senses both before and after the 4thC could get you accused of heresy. The idea of the same but different was the only thing which was constant and goes back to the NT.

          • Bart
            Bart  October 15, 2019

            There is actually a good deal of philosophical work being done based on ancient Greek philosohical categories. And no, the categories are definitely not those used by or even known to the authors of the NT. If you’re seriously interested in the topic, I’d suggest you read some books on Nicene christology/theology, e.g., the work of Lewis Ayres.

          • Avatar
            brenmcg  October 15, 2019

            ok thanks

        • Avatar
          Iskander Robertson  October 14, 2019

          “But Nicene christians werent committing the heresy of modalism when they said both the father and Jesus were God.”

          how does this work out? if you are saying x and y are z, then you are saying z = 1

          x and y = 1

          this is modalism, unless you say x and y is in 1, then 2 in 1 IS not 1

          if you say BOTH have the same powers, then you have 2 gods who are NOT identical to each other

          if you say x and y is IDENTICAL to z, then you COLLAPSED the two..

          • Avatar
            brenmcg  October 16, 2019

            Its paradoxical – as long as you say x not= y you cant be accused of modalism. As long as x and y = z its not arianism. It might be internally inconsistent but not modalism.

  11. Avatar
    fishician  October 7, 2019

    I grew up in a Lutheran church and I don’t recall any discussions or debates about inerrancy. I think if someone had pointed out discrepancies or contradictions they would have shrugged and said that has nothing to do with their faith. It was later on when I was converted to a more fundamentalist church that it became an issue, and eventually I had to throw out the idea of inerrancy based on the evidence of the Bible itself. For me the bigger issue is that if the Bible is accurate then it paints a very dim view of God; one that is not worthy of worship.

    • Bart
      Bart  October 8, 2019

      Yup! You obviously weren’t Missouri Synod Lutheran!

      • Avatar
        fishician  October 8, 2019

        Actually, I was Missouri Synod, but on the Space Coast of Florida maybe they were MS Lite!

        • Bart
          Bart  October 9, 2019

          Wow. OK, then. In my part of the world they were as conservative as they came — that’s why they split off from the rest….

  12. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  October 7, 2019

    1. Good luck!
    2. Confirmation bias, cognitive dissonance reduction. the backfire effect, the illusion of truth effect, and the Dunning-Kruger effect help to explain some of this “alternative facts” world, but the intensity of this “alternative facts” world is still a puzzle, at least for me.
    3. Your theological journey sounds very similar to mine.
    4. Thanks for sharing this post.
    3. Good luck!

  13. Avatar
    Brand3000  October 7, 2019

    Dr. Ehrman,

    You should remind them that lying is a sin!

  14. Avatar
    Bewilderbeast  October 7, 2019

    1. “theologian William Lane Craig . . . says things that in fact just aren’t true. ” That’s par for the course for people who believe convincing people is more important than truth;
    2. Sermons very often state a slice of something and from that tiny slice, jump to a HUGE point which is not at all underpinned by facts; it’s a “fundamental” basic fact of many sermons – the truth is not needed and the audience mostly simply believes it cos – well, they believe anything the man says! I hate it. When I point this out to a friend who ‘believes’ he say “Yes, but its the SPIRIT of the point he was making that’s important.” Makes my blood boil! – Lying is OK, he’s saying -.

  15. Avatar
    mtavares  October 7, 2019

    What did cause your doubts about the resurrection?

    • Bart
      Bart  October 8, 2019

      Probably originally it had to do with discrepancies between the accounts, and then… other things. That’s a great question. I think I’ll add it to things to post about.

    • Avatar
      mombird903  October 8, 2019

      Probably because it is just not physically possible in this universe anyway. Dead is dead and wishful thinking won’t change that.

  16. Avatar
    darren  October 7, 2019

    I’m curious whether these misrepresentations of your beliefs are intentional. Is it likely intentional — they can’t counter your real reasons, so they create reasons they can? Is there any credible reason why they wouldn’t be aware of the deeper reasons for your loss of faith?

  17. Avatar
    phylactella  October 7, 2019

    I have a list of six “S” words that summarize difficulties with traditional and orthodox beliefs. They are:
    Scripture, Soul, Sin, Salvation, Suffering and Spirituality.
    Each needs expansion. As a sample – “feelings of spirituality are not universal: for some people this is a deep need and a core of being, yet for many others there is nothing. This “may” be something to do with differences in “neurobiology”, but who knows? It is simply strange if there is a Superior Being.

    • Avatar
      flshrP  October 8, 2019

      These religious feelings of ecstasy, transcendence, spirituality etc. that you mention are caused by self-stimulation that produces a flow of feel-good neurochemicals (endorphin, oxytocin, serotonin, dopamine) that reach the brain and produce these alterations of consciousness. Any repetitive physical or mental stimulation that produces stress will cause this to happen. And prayer (especially repetitive prayer), intense meditation, reading and re-reading religious materials etc. in locations that stimulate the senses with sights, sounds, odors (incense) that have religious significance are very effective in producing these intense feelings.

      Repetition is the key and practice makes perfect. So believers who become really adept at this self-stimulation can cause a large flood of these neurochemicals to the point where they begin to hallucinate, see visions, hear voices, experience ecstasy. They are overdosing on their self-stimulated feel-good neurochemicals. They are taking a trip and getting high on Jesus. And it’s all happening entirely in their head.

      • Avatar
        mkshehab  October 9, 2019

        I truly believe that. Because I read so much religious materials and spend hours thinking about them, I told my friend that if I ever come out claiming that I saw a vision of some sort, please inform people that I warned you about it and that these visions are all hallucinations.

  18. Avatar
    thebookguy  October 7, 2019

    Distinguished Professor,

    Those familiar with your interviews and debates would see right through Dr. Craig’s false presumption as to why you became an agnostic. Time and time again, in interviews and debates you’ve given no less than five pointed and compelling reasons as to why you became an agnostic. Perhaps you’ll have time to address him at the Defenders Conference in Chicago about his erroneous claim and condescending tone. Professor Craig’s reformed theology is mainstream fundamentalism defined and thus, I cant for the life of me understand why he thinks his current theology is any different than the theology you once held and were taught at Moody and Wheaton.


  19. Avatar
    doug  October 7, 2019

    I imagine conservative Christians prefer to find fault with you rather than to find fault with their God, who could have made his message perfectly clear to all of us, but instead left us to disagree about what God supposedly wants and to sometimes do horrible harm and even kill each other in the belief that God wants that.

  20. Avatar
    photosmike  October 7, 2019

    Are you going to cover any of this at the Defenders Conference?

    Also, why bother with them? There is zero chance your talk will be received with an open mind by anyone.
    Why do you think they invited you to speak?

    • Bart
      Bart  October 8, 2019

      I think they genuinely want to hear the other side — not necessarily to mock it or attack it, or even to believe it, but just to understand it maybe? Why do I go? I hope to spread the light. 🙂

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