Sorting by


Pressing Jeff Siker for Answers: An Intriguing Query and Response

The comments by Jeff Siker on why he is still a Christian even though he, like me, has a thoroughly historical-critical understanding of the Bible (comments posted from four years ago) sparked some interesting responses.  One reader wrote him directly the following pressing questions, and Jeff wrote a reply that I thought was even more germane, interesting, and helpful than the original posts. Here are the questions and his response (as he forwarded them to me).  Jeff, by the way, has said he is happy to answer other questions.  So if you have any, let me know, possibly by making a comment on this post. - Jeff Siker is the author of Jesus, Sin, and Perfection in Early Christianity, Liquid Scripture: The Bible in the Digital World and Homosexuality and Religion: An Encyclopedia.   QUESTIONS FOR JEFF SIKER: I was extremely interested in the republication of your guest post from Jan. 2013 on Bart Ehrman’s blog this week.  You were addressing an issue paramount in my own life: How can I be a Christian knowing [...]

2021-02-06T00:34:39-05:00January 30th, 2017|Public Forum, Reader’s Questions|

Jeff Siker Part 2: Why I am a Christian (and yet a New Testament scholar): A Blast From the Past

This is re-post of an interesting set of comments from exactly four years ago by my friend and colleague Jeff Siker, a New Testament scholar who agrees with most of the critical views I have of the New Testament but who is still a believing and practicing Christian. This is part 2.  To make fullest sense of this post, you should read it in conjunction with the one from yesterday. Jeff Siker is the author of Jesus, Sin, and Perfection in Early Christianity, Liquid Scripture: The Bible in the Digital World and Homosexuality and Religion: An Encyclopedia.   ****************************************************************************************************************** Like Bart I became interested in pursuing an academic career, but with some grounding in the life of the church.  And so after my BA and MA (Religious Studies) at Indiana University, I went off to Yale Divinity School.  And so my trajectory from Young Life in high school to Indiana to Yale was rather different from Bart’s trajectory from Moody to Wheaton to Princeton.  Whereas much of Bart’s education involved the study and practice of [...]

2020-04-25T12:27:07-04:00January 29th, 2017|Public Forum|

Why He Is Still a Christian (And a Biblical Scholar): A Blast From the Past

The past two days I have been giving lectures at Michigan State University.  It's been great.  I've had a number of people ask me after my talks if it is possible to be a Christian and still hold the historical views I do.  My answer -- as many on the blog will know -- is OF COURSE!  And that has prompted me to want to repost this guest-post from my historian/Christian friend Jeff Siker, posted exactly four years ago today.   Here (over the course of two posts) he explains a bit about his faith journey and how he has held on to his faith despite his knowledge of biblical criticism.  I'll post part 2 tomorrow. - Jeffrey Siker is also the author of Jesus, Sin, and Perfection in Early Christianity and Homosexuality in the Church.   ***************************************************************************** Jeffrey Siker is an ordained Presbyterian minister and New Testament scholar. Jeff is senior professor of New Testament at Loyola Marymount University. He and I have been friends for over thirty years; he was two years behind [...]

2021-02-07T00:39:02-05:00January 27th, 2017|Public Forum|

Bart Ehrman on Problem of Suffering – UCB

My thoughts on the problem of suffering. On April 17th, 2008 I appeared on a show called "Conversations with History" with host Harry Kreisler, sponsored by the Institute of International Studies, Regents of the University of California at Berkeley.  The show was called "Biblical Insights into the Problem of Suffering," and was based on my then recently published book God's Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question -- Why We Suffer." Harry Kreisler is the creator, executive producer, and host of the Conversations with History series. Conceived in 1982 by Mr. Kreisler as a way to capture and preserve through conversation and technology the intellectual ferment of our times, Conversations with History includes over 500 interviews. Harry Kreisler was the Executive Director of the Institute of International Studies at the University of California at Berkeley (1974-2014).  In that role, he shaped, administers, and implements interdisciplinary academic and public affairs programs that analyze global issues. Below, beneath the interview, were some thoughts on the book that I wrote up at the time. [...]

2022-06-07T14:29:15-04:00February 28th, 2016|Book Discussions, Public Forum, Video Media|

How the Bible Explains Suffering – Video

On September 8, 2008 I gave a lecture at the University of California Berkeley.  The lecture was titled "God's Problem and Human Solutions: How the Bible Explains Suffering."  It was part of the Foerster Lectures on the Immortality of the Soul. It is an interesting lecture series.  Established in 1928 by Edith Zweybruck, The series is devoted to lectures that in the words of the founding document) are to be "on the immortality of the soul or other kindred subjects. Such lecture is not to form a part of the regular college course and shall be delivered by some person especially qualified therefore and especially appointed for the purpose."  My lecture does not, obviously, deal with directly with the question of immortality, but with another question of deep importance, suffering. I was introduced on the occasion by a very fine scholar of Christianity in Late Antiquity, whom I have known for years, Susanna Elm, Professor in the Department of History, UC Berkeley. Please adjust gear icon for better definition.

2017-12-09T08:20:34-05:00May 16th, 2015|Public Forum, Video Media|

My Debate on Suffering with Philosopher Richard Swinburne

This is a radio debate that I had on January 10th, 2009 with Richard G. Swinburne, a philosopher who teaches at Oxford; Swinburne is a Christian and is well-known in philosophical circles.  The debate involved an area we are both interested in, The Problem of Suffering and whether it makes sense to be a theist in light of the pain and misery in the world. I have to say, this is probably the only radio debate that I've ever done where I got genuinely angry at an opponent.   Swinburne's answers to the worlds misery struck me as completely remote from any pain -- the stereotypical arm-chair-ivy-tower rationalism that makes me wonder if some people have any empathy at all with their fellow human beings who suffer so terribly. In any event, the debate was moderated by Justin Brierley for his radio show "Unbelievable," a weekly program on UK Premier Christian Radio.   Please adjust gear icon for 720p High-Definition:

2017-12-14T23:05:50-05:00June 8th, 2014|Bart's Debates, Public Forum, Video Media|

Suffering and My Blog

For over a week now I’ve been dealing with a question concerning my views on suffering.  I could go on for days and days, weeks and weeks, about how the problem of suffering is discussed by the writers of the Bible and how I see it from my own perspective.   But it’s not the most cheerful of subjects and I need/want to move on to other things.   I’ve said enough to make my basic points, I think (if anyone wants more on any specific related topic, just let me know and I can squeeze it in): suffering is a real problem for anyone who stands firmly within the Judeo-Christian tradition, where God is understood to be the all-powerful Creator of all there is and Sovereign over what he created, and yet there is horrible suffering going on around us all the time – and has been since time immemorial.  How does one explain that? The biblical authors have many different ways of explaining it.   The prophets have one way, the prose author of Job another [...]

2017-12-31T20:43:35-05:00July 25th, 2013|Public Forum, Reflections and Ruminations|

Evaluation of Job’s View of Suffering

When I evaluated the short story of Job – found now in the first two and the final chapters of the book – I indicated that I love it as a story. But I do not at *all* find its view of suffering (why it happens) satisfactory. Just the contrary – I find it offensive and even somewhat repulsive. That God would kill innocent children in order to see whether their loving father would curse him seems completely beyond the pale to me. And now, what about the poetic section in chapters 3-41, Job’s dialogues with his three, and then four, friends, and God’s final response to Job in which he silences his claims and protestations by revealing himself in all his awesome and completely overwhelming glory? Here too I find the book mesmerizing and powerful, a real masterpiece of dialogue that reaches a breath-taking climax. This is one of the great pieces of literature from antiquity. But again I find the view of suffering it presents to be completely inadequate and offensive. Let me [...]

2020-04-03T18:20:43-04:00July 23rd, 2013|Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, Reader’s Questions|

Suffering in the Poetic Section of Job

To make sense of the following post, you should probably read yesterday's! ********************************************************************************************************************** Over the years scholars have proposed a wide range of options for interpreting this closing back and forth between God from the whirlwind and Job cowing down in awe before him. This interpretive decision is important, for in some sense the entire meaning of the poetic dialogue hinges on how we understand its climactic ending. One thing that is clear to all interpreters: the view of traditional wisdom is wrong: it is not the case that only the wicked suffer and the righteous prosper. Job really was innocent, and yet he suffered. But why? The answer depends on how we understand God’s awesome appearance at the end and Job’s response. Among some of the leading options of interpretation are the following. • Job finally gets what he wants (in a good way): an encounter with God. This interpretation is true to a point, but the problem with it is that Job does not actually get what he wants, which is a chance [...]

2020-04-03T18:20:51-04:00July 22nd, 2013|Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, Reader’s Questions|

Evaluation of Job’s Short Story

                In my previous post I laid out the “short story” of Job – the prose narrative that begins and ends the book that was, I contended, originally a free-standing story that existed independently of the poetic dialogues between Job and his friends that take up the great bulk of the book (this isn’t my idea: it’s been a standard view in scholarship for a long time).   This short story has a different view of Job, of the reason for his suffering, of his response to suffering, and just about everything else from the poetic exchanges of chapter 3-42.   Interpretations simply get fuzzy and confused when they treat the book as a literary whole – or at least the views of each of the two constituent parts gets completely altered when they are combined together into a rather large work, as was done by an unknown editor who spliced them into the book that we now have today.                 And so, just sticking with what we find in the [...]

2017-12-31T20:48:41-05:00July 19th, 2013|Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, Public Forum|

The Prose Story of Job

I’ve decided to devote a few posts to the book of Job.   I’ll separate out the two authors and their accounts, and in this post talk about the prose narrative that begins and ends the book – that originally was just one story, without all the intervening materials (chs. 3-39) present in them. The book begins by describing Job, who is not, as it turns out, an Israelite.  He comes from the land of Uz , which appears to be a fictional place.  Job nonetheless worships Yahweh, and is unusually righteous and upright.  As a result God has rewarded him handsomely.  He has a large family – seven sons and three daughters – and an unbelievable number of sheep, camels, oxen, donkeys, and servants.   He is so righteous that he not only makes sure that he himself never sins, but he regularly offers burnt sacrifices to God on behalf of his children in case any of them has sinned. One day the “sons of God” come up to God in heaven, including one called Satan.  [...]

2020-04-03T18:21:20-04:00July 17th, 2013|Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, Reader’s Questions|

Personal Response to Suffering?

QUESTION: I would like to know more about your personal beliefs regarding the god issue and human suffering in all of it’s forms…all forms…war, poverty, governmental responsibility in suffering, population explosion, church persecutions and tortures…everything.  I’m not just referring to your book on the history of the problem of suffering (God’s Problem) but your personal thoughts about it and how you are involved to help alleviate suffering and what you think the future of humanity is since there seems to be no stop to suffering.  Suffering (not just people but animals) is of great concern to me and I see no solution…ever.   REPLY: For the past week or ten days I’ve been answering questions one at a time, one post per question.  This is the kind of question that makes me feel a whole series of posts coming on, a real thread.   We’ll see. The first thing to say is that God’s Problem is not really about the history of the problem of suffering, or the history of the discussion of the problem of [...]

A Privileged View of Suffering

Sometimes people get upset because I deal with the problem of suffering even though I don’t seem to be experiencing any severe pain and misery myself. Here is an example of the kind of comment I occasionally receive, this from someone commenting to me on Facebook a couple of days ago: "Dude, in a world of suffering, you claim doubts in deity because you live the privileged life of a UNC professor. If you lived in a 40-year-old trailer in Tarboro, I'd take you more seriously. And you even charge people to read your self-indulgent crap. Just for the record, I'm a non-theist. But I'm not a hypocrite." I take comments like this very seriously. Even though I recognize that it is (needlessly?) hostile, my sense is that a lot of people who feel this way are themselves experiencing real hardship and find it offensive that I would have the gall to talk about issues of pain and suffering. And so I’m not at all inclined to reply in kind, with hostility. But I do [...]

2017-12-31T23:35:34-05:00March 11th, 2013|Bart's Critics, Reflections and Ruminations|

Biblical Views of Suffering

On something different from Christology! I’m in New York City for a few days. Last night I gave a lecture at NYU; they had asked that I talk about “God, The Bible, and the Problem of Suffering.” That’s the topic of my book God’s Problem, and so I spun off a talk from there. Part of the point of the book is that the Bible has a large number of views about why people – especially the people of God – suffer, many of these views are at odds with one another, and most of them are different from what people, even highly religious people, even highly religious people who think they based their views on the Bible, tend to think. The lecture was only to be 50 minutes so I couldn’t spend much time on this that or the other view, and in fact could not deal with most of the biblical perspectives. I didn’t talk about Job, for example (which, in the judgment of most biblical scholars, is made up of the work [...]

2017-12-31T23:37:04-05:00March 8th, 2013|Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, Public Forum|

My Views on Suffering Are Not Held by Those Who Suffer

In two of my debates, one with the “Messianic-Jewish Apologist” Michael Brown (whom I had never heard of before, but who was a remarkably good debater) and with the conservative Christian Dinesh D’Souza (whom I had heard of before, loud and clear, and who is also a remarkably good debater), I have been confronted with a point that, in both instances, my opponents thought was a decisive strike against me. My views of suffering are not shared by the people who, unlike me, actually suffer. It’s an interesting point. To explain it, and my response to it, I need to say a few words about the context of these debates. The topic of my debates on the problem of suffering is never whether or not there is suffering. Luckily. Everyone (at least everyone I debate, and most everyone who listens to the debates) agrees that there is suffering. The question at stake is whether it makes sense to believe in God given the nature and extent of suffering in the world. FOR THE REST OF [...]

2020-04-03T19:40:18-04:00June 3rd, 2012|Bart's Debates|

What Do Tectonic Plates Have To Do With Suffering?

I have always found it interesting that when I talk about how there can be suffering in the world if there is a good God who is in charge of it, someone will tell me that it is all because of “free will.” I think most of us – not Sam Harris, of course, or some others, but most of us – think that there is such a thing as free will, that our actions are not completely determined for us but to some extent (not completely! Or even nearly completely) we can decide what to do (we can’t decide to walk on the ceiling without special equipment; most of us can’t decide to understand the general theory of relativity; and so on. But we can decide whether to cross the street, or go to a movie, or punch our neighbor in the nose). Moreover, most of us would agree that a good deal of suffering happens as the result of humans exercising free will. Your own broken nose may be because your neighbor was [...]

2020-04-03T19:46:20-04:00April 23rd, 2012|Bart's Debates, Reflections and Ruminations|

Is Suffering All About Us?

I have had a number of interesting public debates on the problem of suffering since writing my book God’s Problem: How the Bible Fails To Answer Our Most Important Question – Why We Suffer. Some of these debates have been with high profile scholars, in a range of fields: N. T. Wright, professor of New Testament; Dinesh D’Souza (three times!), public intellectual and now president of King’s College in NYC; Richard Swinburne (on the radio in the UK), philosopher and Christian apologist at Oxford, emeritus, and others. One argument that frequently gets used in these debates really irritates me, aggravates me, makes my blood boil (I’m not saying that everyone I debate uses it). It is the view that suffering can be justified because it contributes to making us human. I can understand this argument, and can even affirm it in part, when it is used of our own, mild and infrequent, suffering. Sometimes when bad things happen to us it ends up being for our own good, making us stronger, better people. The example [...]

2020-04-03T19:47:51-04:00April 4th, 2012|Bart's Debates|
Go to Top