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Upcoming Debate!

This coming weekend, Feb. 12-13, I will be holding a debate at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary on the topic “How Did Jesus Become God?”   They are calling it a “Dialogue,” but that’s just because they’re being nice.  It’s actually a great group of people, even though, as you might imagine, we agree on very little when it comes to matters of faith.   My worthy opponent is Michael Bird. You may have heard of him. He is the author of The New Testament in Its World, and Introducing Paul: The Man, His Mission and His Message, among other books.  Back when I published How Jesus Became God, he was the one who edited the response book that came out the same day, How God Became Jesus.  He wrote one of the articles in the book.  We will both be staking out our claims on Friday night.  The next day are papers delivered by scholars we have hand-chosen for the event, two each: mine are my good friends Jennifer Knust (Boston University) and Dale Martin (Yale); his are Simon Gathercole (Cambridge) and Larry Hurtado (emeritus, Edinburgh).

The format:  Friday night Michael and I both present our 35 minute papers; respond to the other guy’s; and take questions from the crowd.  Saturday each scholar presents a paper and both Michael and I respond for five minutes (all the papers are roughly on the topic.)  Here is the website: http://www.greerheard.com/.  The event will be live-streamed.

In preparation for the debate I was asked to deal with a few questions.  Here they are, along with my responses.  Of greatest relevance for our presentations, as you’ll see, are questions 4 and 5.  If you have any questions or issues you would like me to address related to any of this, let me know!


Q&A for Greer-Heard Jollies

  • Where are you from?

My wife often asks me that.  Short story, I first saw the light of day in Lawrence Kansas.  My childhood was spent there and in Fremont Nebraska.  After high school I attended Moody Bible Institute, where I majored in Bible-Theology.  On graduation I went to finish my B.A. at Wheaton, majoring in English and taking Greek as my foreign language.  For a Master’s degree I wanted to work on Greek manuscripts and so went to study with (the great) Bruce Metzger at Princeton Theological Seminary.  I stayed, then, to do a PhD with him as his final doctoral student.  I taught at Rutgers University in the mid 1980s and have been teaching, reading, and writing at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill since 1988.


  • How did you arrive at this point in your life (brief bio)?

When I was a junior in high school I had a born again experience and asked Jesus to be my Lord and Savior.  That’s what impelled me to…

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Are “Group Hallucinations” Possible? The Case of Mary.
Weekly Readers’ Mailbag: February 7, 2016



  1. Lee Ring
    Lee Ring  February 8, 2016

    Will this be recorded and available for viewing at a later date?

    • Bart
      Bart  February 9, 2016

      I would assume so. You may want to write Robert Steward at the school to see.

  2. Greg Matthews
    Greg Matthews  February 8, 2016

    Is this a small affair? Seems like some heavy guns coming in, but only a few people are speaking? Any chance this debate will be live like one of your previous debates was?

  3. Greg Matthews
    Greg Matthews  February 8, 2016

    An off topic question, but does any scholar, secular or not, interpret the Greek word “tekton” as anything other than carpenter or craftsman? I was in a quite lively back and forth on reddit this weekend and that came up as part of the larger discussion. The other guy was trying to force down my throat that tekton is now interpreted as “architect”(!!!!!!).

    • Bart
      Bart  February 9, 2016

      The word refers to someone who works with his hand to fashion things — blacksmith, stone mason, carpenter. It definitely does not mean architect, for which there was another word.

  4. talmoore
    talmoore  February 8, 2016

    Dr. Ehrman, If I’m being honest, I have to say that when I watch one of your debates — espcially when you’re debating an evangelical conservative Christian (as opposed to a liberal Christian or a mythicist) — I tend to fast-forward the Christian’s parts because they usually just rehash the same old, tired arguments going back to Aquinas or Anselm or some other Medieval theologian (if I have to hear William Lane Craig put forth that tired old Kalam Cosmological Argument one more time I’ll bang my head against the wall).

    I’m curious what you personally think is the strongest argument in your arsenal that supports the theory that Jesus never claimed to be God (keeping in mind I have read How Jesus Became God, so I already have a general idea of your overall arguments).

    For my money, I personally find the Argument from Deafening Silence (as I call it) to be the most compelling. The Argument from Deafening Silence basically says that, taking all of Jesus’ purported traits together, one would think that the fact that Jesus is really God incarnate would be the single most important character fact about him. Indeed, one would expect each and every NT document to begin with a phrase such as the following: “Holy moly, Jesus was God incarnate! and this is why…” But they don’t. The only NT document that may possibly hint that Jesus was God incarnate is the Gospel of John, and even there it actually starts off by saying Jesus was the “logos” of God, which, according to the platonic emanation theories common at the time of Jesus (e.g. Philo of Alexandria), there’s no reason to assume that John is being completely unambiguous here. In other words, John isn’t coming straight out and saying “Listen, Jesus was God incarnate!”, which is kind of what we would expect. To use a journalistic term, if Jesus actually claimed to be God, and Jesus’ disciples actually believed he was God, then the NT writers really buried the lede. For some reason, they decided to leave out the single most important fact about Jesus, which is awfully, awfully suspicious!

    • Bart
      Bart  February 9, 2016

      Yup, I agree that Deafening Silence from the Synoptics is almost inexplicable if John’s discourses are historical.

  5. Avatar
    Andrew  February 8, 2016

    I want to compliment you on how gracious you are to these apologists, as you are in this post. I would be so frustrated I would eventually come out with something impolite or even sarcastic.

  6. Avatar
    Pattycake1974  February 8, 2016

    Bird stated (a while back) that since your book introduced what scholars are saying to your audience, he found it strange that you omitted Bauckham. I’ve never ready any of Bauckham’s work, but I keep seeing his name mentioned, so now I’m curious to start reading his books!
    So my question is, why do you think he feels the omission is strange, and do you think he will bring this up as a debating point?

    • Bart
      Bart  February 9, 2016

      I deal with Bauckham in my book coming out in three weeks. I didn’t deal with Bauckham in the other book for the same reason I didn’t deal with 10,000 other biblical scholars. I didn’t think his views were essential to the point I was making for a general audience.

  7. Avatar
    dragonfly  February 9, 2016

    Oh yes, the bad jokes, I almost forgot. Or blocked it out (thank god for faulty memory!). That made a difficult book tortuous.

    Anyway I think you stated your case quite clearly in How Jesus Became God. However since Bird and his crew wrote a book called How God Became Jesus that in no way, shape or form explained how God became Jesus, maybe you could you ask him to give that explanation.

  8. Avatar
    Gary  February 9, 2016

    I am currently in a discussion with a group of Christians regarding the Empty Tomb. Whenever this topic comes up, many Christian apologists like to say that the “majority” of NT scholars believe in the historicity of the Empty Tomb. They base this claim on Gary Habermas’ “study” in which Haberma’s claims that 75% of NT scholars hold this position. Do you agree that the majority of NT scholars believe in the historicity of the Empty Tomb?

    Secondly, when I brought up the point that you, Bart Ehrman, question the historicity of the Empty Tomb, one Christian apologist stated the following: “Bart Ehrman is a textual critic, and a very good textual critic. But the question of the Empty Tomb is outside of Ehrman’s expertise, so therefore Ehrman’s position on this issue is inconsequential. His opinion on this issue cannot be considered an expert opinion. New Testament scholarship is now very specialized.”

    How would you respond to that?

    • Bart
      Bart  February 9, 2016

      These people drive me crazy. I guess I would ask this person whose opinion he *does* value. Josh McDowell’s? Lee Strobel’s??? James White’s??? Now *there’s* some trained historians for you!!!

      • Avatar
        Wilusa  February 9, 2016

        I agree that it’s outrageous some people say your opinion about the Empty Tomb is of no significance because it’s “not your field of expertise.” Ridiculous. You’re an extremely knowledgeable scholar; of course your opinion on the subject is important.

        But…is it or isn’t it true that the majority of New Testament scholars still believe in its historicity? (It’s been my impression they do, since even you believed it till a few years ago.)

        • Bart
          Bart  February 10, 2016

          Yup, it’s true. Then again, the vast majority of New Testament scholars are believing Christians!

    • Avatar
      dragonfly  February 11, 2016

      Gary, what qualifications do you need to be an “empty-tombologist”?

    • Avatar
      scissors  January 18, 2019


      “Bart Ehrman is a textual critic, and a very good textual critic. But the question of the Empty Tomb is outside of Ehrman’s expertise”

      This is, for lack of a better description, a Craigite apologetic tactic. They will gladly admit Professor Ehrman’s expertise so long as it doesn’t impinge on their point. The irony here is that they’ll gladly cite William Lane Craig who likes to claim that Dr. Ehrman is not a historian forgetting of course, that Craig, himself is not one but he feels free to argue for an empty tomb. There is a bit of bait and switch going on here as well. The discussion of the empty tomb often takes place within the framework of the minimal facts approach which involve the authenticity criteria.
      It’s rather bizarre to argue that someone whose expertise is also in Early Christianity is not qualified to evaluate or use these criteria but people without similar expertise are; particularly, given that these claims are made by Christian texts!

      • Bart
        Bart  January 20, 2019

        That’s very funny. Does he mean that I don’t have a PhD in Empty Tomb Studies? (And you’re right, what exactly is his expertise that he is suddenly a historian?)

        Craig regularly talks about the area of my expertise, but he actually knows nothing about my training and education. I was not trained as a textual critic. In five years of graduate course work I had only one course on it, and in fact textual criticism was only a *part* of that one course. My training was almost entirely on the the literature and history of the New Testament.

  9. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  February 9, 2016

    I was, as a college student, also blown away by Schweitzer’s book. Thanks for sharing all of this and good luck in he land of marvelous restaurants.

  10. Avatar
    esmael.mayar  February 9, 2016

    Best of luck to you! I’ll be watching the live stream. Also, quick question (hopefully). Were early Jewish-Christian groups like the Ebionites and Nazarenes comtemporaries of the apostles? The Ebionites claim they follow James and have very low views of Paul, but I was wondering if they were around while these individuals were alive (or if we have any idea/evidence of when they first came about)?

    • Bart
      Bart  February 10, 2016

      WE only know of groups called by these specific names from the second century.

  11. Avatar
    EclecticProphet  February 10, 2016

    Is this debate going to be open to the public at large? I am a huge fan of yours and actually happen to be in New Orleans right now on my way to Texas. Due to an unforeseen delay, perhaps divine providence, I will still be in the Big Easy on the 12th & 13th and would very much like to see your debate in person. Do you know if that is even possible?

    • Bart
      Bart  February 10, 2016

      I’m not sure! Google it and contact them — they’ll be happy to tell you.

  12. Greg Matthews
    Greg Matthews  February 10, 2016

    From Larry Hurtado’s blog here’s the schedule: http://greerheard.com/wp/schedule/.

    Most of us have probably seen you debate more than a couple times. I’d be more interested in seeing the responses to all of the presenters on Saturday. I’m familiar with the work of both Simon Gathercole and Larry Hurtado so I’d love the response to them. I’ve never heard of Jennifer Wright Knust, but the title of her papers sounds interesting!

  13. Avatar
    john76  February 12, 2016

    The Jesus uttering the cry of dereliction from the cross was just a scared man. The Jesus uttering the prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, disagreeing with God’s plan and petitioning God, was just a man in despair. The Jesus who constructed The Lord’s Prayer grouped himself with the rest of humanity (“Our Father”). Jesus was just a man.

    • Avatar
      john76  February 15, 2016

      Jesus was clearly not a god, or The God, but rather a human prophet (Mark 6:5), with human failings such as drinking too much alcohol (Matthew 11:19), and even disagreeing with God and his role in God’s plan (Mark 14: 32-42).

  14. Avatar
    Pattycake1974  February 13, 2016

    Watching Dale Martin on Livestream now…he’s good!

  15. Avatar
    Pattycake1974  February 14, 2016

    I thought Jennifer’s speech at the end was interesting.

  16. Avatar
    Luke9733  February 24, 2016

    I read that you will be debating Robert Price on whether Jesus existed on October 21st in Milwaukee (my home state!) Is that true?

  17. Avatar
    Gary  July 3, 2016

    Dr. Ehrman,

    Could you give your opinion of Gary Habermas’ research on the percentage of “critical scholars” who believe in the historicity of the Empty Tomb?


    • Bart
      Bart  July 5, 2016

      I’m afraid I haven’t read his work on it. But my sense is that most do accept that the tomb in empty, principally because they haven’t thought about it all that much….

      • Avatar
        Gary  July 5, 2016

        Please consider reading Habermas’ study. Many Christian apologists (such as Mike Licona and William Lane Craig) use Habermas’ study to claim that the majority of “scholars” believe in the historicity of the Empty Tomb. Online Christian apologists and blog owners repeatedly use this research to beat us skeptics over the head, claiming we reject scholarly consensus on this issue. However, if you read the study, this isn’t a survey of historians, this is a literature search of mostly North American conservative Christian publications, a large percentage of the articles written by “theologians”. Wouldn’t historians of the ancient Near East, the Roman Empire, AND New Testament scholarship be the appropriate scholars to survey?

        Without the claim that most scholars believe in the historicity of an Empty Tomb, the Christian argument for the bodily resurrection of Jesus as an historical fact is severely weakened. Christians are left primarily with alleged post-death appearance claims by a handful of Galilean peasants.

        Here is a link to Habermas’ article. It would be great to see you do a review of it sometime!



        • Bart
          Bart  July 6, 2016

          My view is that “majority of critical scholars” is not a piece of evidence.

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