I recently reposted a debate I did with Peter Williams about the signficance of textual variants for the New Testament.   It reminded me of another debate we did some five years ago, on an even more pressing question, whether the Gospels can be seen as completely trustworthy.  This one was televised.  I thought it was particularly interesting because  Peter is not a simply a Christian apologist who uses other peoples’ scholarship to promote his religious beliefs; he himself is a bona fide scholar with a PhD from Cambridge, and one of the leading experts on the ancient Syriac version of the New Testament.

Peter has been a friend for a long time, and is also a committed evangelical Christian who does not believe there are mistakes in the Gospels.  I *so* disagree with that.  Our debate was on the Christian Radio program “Unbelievable” under their new series “The Big Conversation” Season 2-Episode 3, hosted by Justin Brierley.

It was a long and interesting debate.  Peter has written Can We Trust the Gospels? and C S Lewis vs the New Atheists.  My contention throughout the debate is that he has not answered the question adequately, that in fact virtually everything he says in the book is irrelevant to the question.  It’s a very interesting and unusual attempt that he makes.  But most of the book completely misses the point.

It’s the kind of book that anyone who wants very much to trust the Gospels will come away from saying “See, we CAN trust them.”  But anyone who actually looks at what he’s saying, and who knows about the actual reasons people have for NOT thinking the Gospels are historically reliable, will say, “Wait a second!  He’s simply countering arguments that no one makes, and is not addressing the arguments they do!  That’s just building a straw man and knocking it down.  That ain’t gonna work!”

Watch it and see what you yourself think.   You can find it here:

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2024-06-08T16:17:45-04:00June 19th, 2024|Bart's Debates, Canonical Gospels|

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  1. Karlpeeter June 19, 2024 at 10:30 am

    Hi bart
    I dont think we have found any deffenent statue/picture of Yehweh but we have found some other statue/picture of some other canaan gods. Isint that wierd mayby bad luck if we have found only some statues of canaan deitys, after all 10 comandments ban idols.
    But what do you think?

    • BDEhrman June 21, 2024 at 12:32 pm

      Sorry, I’m not sure whatyou’re asking.

  2. Karlpeeter June 19, 2024 at 7:26 pm

    Hi bart
    I was wondering what are the populatsion numbers in israel 9 century bc

  3. Lms728 June 20, 2024 at 12:43 pm

    I was surprised to hear you say that you believe that Jesus predicted the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. Why isn’t it more likely that the evangelists inserted Jesus’ prediction into their writings post-70?

  4. ClaudeTee June 21, 2024 at 11:25 am

    I had the same question!

    • TheaLoggi June 21, 2024 at 10:16 pm

      I believe there is evidence that other people around the time of Jesus believed the temple might be destroyed. The idea was floating around. For example one man was flogged for frightening people by standing for many days outside the temple crying “Woe, woe, woe” and predicting it’s soon destruction.

  5. Oudeis June 22, 2024 at 7:22 am

    I was surprised that Williams said the geographical detail supported the notion that the synoptic authors – Luke in particular – had a detailed knowledge of the locations. I had thought the opposite was true. For example, Sepphoris is curiously 6not mentioned although it is only 4 miles from Nazareth, and even if much of its development came after Jesus’ death, it was still a city of major significance. Also, the Gadarene demoniac story has the pigs rushing into the sea, when the area is miles from it.

    Bart, am I wrong here?

    • BDEhrman June 28, 2024 at 6:37 am

      I would say that not mentioning Sepphoris is not an indication that he doens’t know the geography of the place. Writers simply mention the places they think are relevant. The region of the Gedarenes/Gerasenes is a bit of a puzzle.

      • Oudeis June 28, 2024 at 11:04 am

        Thanks so much for clearing up my misconception about Sepphoris.

        I had the view that the Gospel texts showed the authors had a poor knowledge of the geography of Palestine, whereas Williams says the opposite. My view is connected with idea that they were writing in Greek speaking cities outside Palestine, and had probably never visited Palestine, which a poor geographical knowledge of the area would presumably support.

        Can I get your view? Specifically:

        A) Does the text show that their knowledge is poor, fair, good or excellent?

        B) Can we infer anything from this to say they are likely to have visited, lived in or never been to Palestine?

        Thanks in advance!

        • BDEhrman June 29, 2024 at 9:53 am

          A. Fairly good on the whole. Fadly off on occasion.
          B. Nope, not IMO.

  6. Oudeis June 22, 2024 at 8:21 am

    As a separate point, I was a fundamentalist who went to University to study the Bible and prove the “modernists” wrong. It took one term to demolish my belief in inerrancy. I cannot comprehend what mental gymnastics Williams must perform to retain such an outlook for decades in the face of the clear meanings of the text itself. Inerrancy is unbiblical.

    Also curious was his criticism of the bias of university history departments. His answer to “Are the Gospels historically reliable?” seems to be that the practice of history is itself suspect. Why? It has a different “world view”. “My world view is different, but no less valid”, Williams seems to say. By implication, the historical method produces false results, since it doesn’t agree with his, and he must hold that his beliefs are true.

    This is a recurring dodge. “You have your Weltanschauung or Narrative, I have mine. Who can decide between them? They’re all equally valid, or at least you can’t prove me wrong. I take my leap of faith, and that’s it. Whew. I’m safe.”

    Unfortunately, no, he’s not. It doesn’t work, particularly if you hold that there are objective truths, which Christianity does.

  7. 2023betterresearch June 22, 2024 at 9:00 am

    LOL. I think Karlpeeter above is asking his questions with presuppositions. He is saying that he thinks we haven’t found archeological finds depicting YHWH but other Canaanite deities instead. He then says/asks: isn’t strange that after the 10 commandments prohibit worshipping other deities, other deities were found in archeological records that are not YHWH. I think that’s what he is asking with presuppositions.
    Well, we can know that the YHWH finds are indeed depicting YHWH due to all the linguistic and philologic clues on the archeological finds or inscriptions and pictographic artifacts; and it there is no need for those individual YHWH depictions to be consistent across the board – people were not consistent back then and there was no internet. Also, YHWH is acutally not consistently depicted even in the Hebrew Bible – just like almost anything else in the Bible. He is also presupposing the historicity and traditional timeline of the Exodus and the 10 commandments.

  8. Legalbits June 22, 2024 at 5:53 pm

    Your comment about Williams’s book: “It’s the kind of book that anyone who wants very much to trust the Gospels will come away from saying ‘See, we CAN trust them.’” reminds me of C E Hill’s book Who Choise the Gospels; Probing the Great Gospel Conspiracy.”

    That book is required reading at Southern Baptist Seminary. I have never read a book that contains more strawman arguments and disingenuous assertions to get to an unsupportable conclusion in my life.

    • BDEhrman June 28, 2024 at 6:51 am

      They’re both really smart people; but their conclusions are almost always exactly what you’d expect….

  9. rickgill June 27, 2024 at 9:22 am

    Dr Ehrman
    When it comes to the Quran Vs the Nt, Marjn Van Putten says :
    >Same as with the NT. But the Quran is definitely in a better position. It was written down closer to the lifetime of Muhammad than any book of the NT to Jesus. We can compare it to other text types like companion codices and the Sanaa Palimosest and see variation is quite minimal

    >an apologist wrote : That’s true: the number of Qur’anic manuscripts from the first four centuries of Islam, in my estimation, would cross well beyond a couple hundreds. Pretty unsurprising since one had a pretty stable material and financial backing and the other didn’t, at least till the 300s.

    Question to Dr Ehrman
    1. where is the evidence that the writers of the new testament did not have “stable material and FINANCIAL backing” in first 200 yrs ? what is our source for this? what was “marks” financial status when it came to his gospel production? weren’t there enough animals on the mountains he lived on? didn’t he get financial support for spreading his gospel? acts says the jerusalem church was living off funding. what about the “heretic” christianities in first century, what financian backing and material stability did they have?

    • BDEhrman June 29, 2024 at 9:34 am

      If by “financial backing” you mean that someone may have been providing Christian workers with material support to allow them to engate in their mission, of course that happened. Paul received it. Did I say that no one finalncially supported Paul or early Christian ministers? If so, I’m not sure WHAT I was thinking!

      • rickgill July 1, 2024 at 4:03 pm

        Dr Ehrman, these guys are saying that an empire was behind the quran thats why it shows textual stability, but the nt writters didnt have “stable Material” and FINANCIAL BACKING” Thats why u get many textual variants?

        how does that follow? Why couldnt they have had financial backing to CHANGE to text?

        I dont getit
        Please help me here

        • BDEhrman July 4, 2024 at 5:37 am

          You definitely could have had someone pay scribes to change the text. But you didn’t.

  10. timappelo June 28, 2024 at 9:23 pm

    He seems a clever erudite good chap whose ingenious arguments are specious.

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