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Wrede’s Revolutionary Claim about the “Messianic Secret”

Yesterday I pointed out all the passages in the Gospel of Mark that repeat, time and again, the idea that Jesus tried to keep his messiahship a secret.  He doesn’t allow the demons to identify him when he casts them out; when he heals people he strictly instructs them not to tell anyone; he teaches his disciples the “secret of the Kingdom” privately when no one else is around; he teaches the crowds only using parables precisely (Mark indicates) so no one can understand what he means.  And he never publicly teaches about his own identity.

This last point should be emphasized.  Unlike other Gospels (see John 4:25-26!) Jesus never tells anyone publicly that he is the messiah.  When he is acknowledged as the messiah by Peter in a private conversation with the disciples in Mark 8:29-30, Jesus orders them not to let anyone know.  And then he starts teaching that as the messiah he has to be rejected and executed.  That seems to be a complete contradiction of terms for Peter, who has just made the acknowledgment; Peter rebukes him for thinking so.  Obviously the messiah doesn’t face rejection and execution – the messiah is supposed to rule Israel as the powerful leader sent from God!  Jesus in turn rebukes Peter and calls him Satan.  For Jesus (and Mark) Peter understands only in part.  Yes Jesus is the messiah, but not the one anyone expects.  So he keeps it secret.

But William Wrede, in his classic The Messianic Secret, did not think that this could be a historical reality.  It’s not really what happened in the life of Jesus.  As I pointed out yesterday, the “secrecy” actually doesn’t make any good sense in a number of ways, even in Mark’s Gospel, as a plausible historical event.  So what’s going on?

Wrede devised the idea …

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The Death Knell for the Study of the Historical Jesus
Is It Plausible that Jesus Kept the Whole Thing a Secret??



  1. Avatar
    hoijarvi  February 19, 2019

    Isn’t this kind of secrecy typical in mystery cults? Like when you joined scientology, you had to be a member a long time and rise in the ranks before they would tell you about the hydrogen bombs in the volcanoes. The point being, that you told that the first day to new members they would just declare it ridiculous and leave.

    And thanks for answering my previous questions.

    • Bart
      Bart  February 20, 2019

      Yes, mystery cults. Hermeticism. Later Gnosticism. Secrecy heightens divine truth!

  2. Avatar
    JohnDaugherty  February 19, 2019

    Dr Ehrman,

    This makes perfect sense to me, coming from an non-believing perspective, but wouldn’t evangelicals simply claim that Mark’s messianic secret claim was a reality because Jesus saw the need to be put to death as an atoning sacrifice? I imagine they would use passages like Isaiah’s suffering servant section (chpt 52-53) to build this case. If the Jewish people believed that Jesus was the Messiah, they wouldn’t reject him like these passages indicate.

    In Romans, Paul makes the similar claim that this rejection of Jesus was necessary so that salvation could be proclaimed to the Gentiles (an argument that appears to also hail from the Servant section starting in Isaiah 49). The rejection of Jesus by the Jewish people was necessary so that these prophecies would be fulfilled. Only after this rejection and death would the message be available to the gentiles.

    Did Wrede anticipate this evangelical claim when making his case for the messianic secret?

    • Bart
      Bart  February 20, 2019

      Yes, that’s the standard line that Wrede worked to show didn’t make sense of the stories themselves. (And btw: he could have been put to death as an atoning sacrifice earlier!)

  3. Avatar
    fishician  February 19, 2019

    If Jesus was doing the amazing miracles described in the Gospels it is hard to believe that the Jews who were looking forward to a Messiah would ignore or reject him,even crucify him, as portrayed in the Gospels. It makes more sense that he was one in a long line of apocalyptic preachers who was later elevated to deity status by his followers, who then had to explain why no one recognized him for who he was.

  4. Avatar
    Nexus  February 19, 2019

    If Jesus was representing himself as a teacher and a prophet, he then wasn’t executed for being the King of the Jews? …it was just for being an apocalyptic prophet prophesizing the eminent destruction of Rome?

    I think Wrede’s work implies that Mark’s community knew him from their tradition as a faith healer too. Otherwise, it would raise the question of why they hadn’t heard of the faith healing. Thoughts?

    • Bart
      Bart  February 20, 2019

      No, he was definitely executed for being King of the Jews. In my view, that’s one of the things he taught — at least to his disciples, one of whom spilled the beans, leading to his death.

      • Avatar
        jhague  February 21, 2019

        1. Do you think the disruption with the money changers is historical?
        2. If so, do you think that event had any thing to do with Jesus’ arrest?

        • Bart
          Bart  February 22, 2019

          1. Yes. 2. Yup, I think the Jewish authorities came to suspect he could be a trouble maker — the last thing they needed/wanted during the inflammatory time of the Passover.

          • Avatar
            dankoh  February 22, 2019

            I’ve read a lot of arguments (including yours and Fredriksen’s) on why the Romans executed Jesus. I think the most likely possibilities are for sedition (being “King of the Jews”) or for se turbulente gessere (causing a disturbance in the Temple by overturning the money changers’ tables, which was sufficient cause for Pilate to nail him up). To be honest, I cannot claim either argument has convinced me – which to my mind is one more piece of evidence that the gospels are not to be taken as history.

            But you knew that!

      • webo112
        webo112  February 21, 2019

        I was going to ask this very question, so just to clarify…Jesus was privately teaching (to his inner circle) that he was the (future?) king of the Jews, but not teaching he was the Messiah.
        So he was claiming that he was just the new earthly king of Jews, that would then be made into the Messiah by the appearance of the Son of Man, and the new kingdom?

        • Bart
          Bart  February 22, 2019

          The messiah for Jesus *was* the king of the Jews. When he is made the king, then all will recognize him as the messiah.

  5. Avatar
    SkepticsRUs  February 19, 2019

    On a side note, the gospels do not tell us how the disciples knew that the strangers with Jesus were Elijah and Moses. Presumably someone (perhaps Jesus) told them, because there is no way the disciples could have recognised them on their own. If so, the disciples were apparently quick to believe what they were told in spite of the exceptional nature of the claim. The gospel writers simply gloss over that aspect of the story.

    • Bart
      Bart  February 20, 2019

      I know. Very strange. (We can assume they weren’t wearing name badges….)

  6. Avatar
    Brittonp  February 19, 2019

    Fascinating! Thank you for sharing.

  7. NulliusInVerba
    NulliusInVerba  February 19, 2019

    1. Did Wrede say anything about why “the crowds” would continue to throng to Jesus while the parables remained cloaked in mystery?
    2. Was the logic of the 1st Century that much different than the logic of the 19th, 20th or 21st?
    3. Wouldn’t a strong following of Jesus under such circumstances be something Mark needed to explain away?

    Thank you.

    • Bart
      Bart  February 20, 2019

      1. They enjoyed the nmiracles; 2. Totally. 3. Doing miracles did not make a person a messiah. Moses and Elijah do miracles; so do Peter and Paul!

      • Avatar
        JohnDaugherty  February 20, 2019

        Your response to NulliusInVerba intrigued me. Are you saying that Jesus actually performed miracles that drew the crowds? If so, how are we to understand those miracles? Was he a charlatan? I’m assuming you probably come from a naturalistic viewpoint so divine intervention is probably not in your worldview.

        • Bart
          Bart  February 22, 2019

          No, I don’t think Jesus did miracles. I thought I was being asked to explain the Gospels, not to comment on the historical Jesus himself.

  8. Avatar
    Apocryphile  February 19, 2019

    This explanation makes sense, but how do you explain the fact that Jesus apparently thought of himself as some sort of future kingly figure, with his disciples ruling over the twelve tribes once God’s Kingdom had been established on earth? I think it goes without saying that nobody thought of Jesus as a divine being while he was alive (including himself), but he must have thought of himself as some sort of Messianic figure if the foregoing is right…. right?

    • Bart
      Bart  February 20, 2019

      Yes, my view is that Jesus thought he would be made the messiah when the Son of Man (the cosmic judge from heaven) arrived, in the near future.

      • Avatar
        Apocryphile  February 20, 2019

        Ok, but I’m still a bit confused, and judging from the comments of other blog members, they are too. It seems that if Jesus only “revealed” his messianic identity to his disciples in private (which seems to be the case, as it eventually led to his arrest/execution when it ‘got out’), why is the Messianic Secret idea seen as completely non-historical? It may have indeed been used by Mark as a literary device, but there would still have been a substantial kernel of truth around this secrecy part, correct?

        • Bart
          Bart  February 22, 2019

          Sorry — I thikn you’re confusing two things: what *Wrede* said (that Jesus did not tell anyone he was the messiah) and what *I* say (that he did).

          • Avatar
            Apocryphile  February 22, 2019

            Ok, I was going by what you said- that the secrecy didn’t make any sense historically. Maybe I’m not understanding what you mean by that term(?)

          • Bart
            Bart  February 24, 2019

            I meant in Wrede’s view. But I agree with him on that point: the way Mark frames and describes the secrecy doesn’t make sense. I don’t think Jesus was raising people in one room in the house with people outside the door, and then telling them, “don’t let anyone know”!

  9. Avatar
    Eskil  February 19, 2019

    From whom Jesus is keeping his messiahship a secret? Apparently, Sadducees didn’t believe in resurrection and any messiah, Pharisees were not concerned about such, only Essenes were very vocal about it and had high expectation of the coming messiah as we can read from read see scrolls. Sounds like Peter had Essenic expectations regarding to the messiah figure.

    • Bart
      Bart  February 20, 2019

      What makes you think that Sadducees and Pharisees didn’t believe in a messiah? The Essenes views were complicated, since they actually believed in two messiahs, to come at the same time.

      • Avatar
        Eskil  February 20, 2019

        I was reading what is said about Sadducees and Pharisees in Wikipedia and Britannica and other similar sources. It seems to be a widespread view that Sadducees were alla about the Temple cult and the written Torah. Pharisees also accepted the oral Thora etc. but apparently were not that concerned with the messiah. Are there any written records from Jesus’ life time that any other sect than Essenes were actually waiting for some eschatological messiah or some other kind of a messiah or is it just a speculation of later days that there must have been some because Jesus wanted to keep his messianship a secret?

        Essenes were indeed waiting for the two messiahs, the ‘Branch of David’ and the ‘Interpreter of the Law’ or the messiahs of Aaron and Israel or royal messiah and priest messiah. Isn’t that less complicated doctrine than the Christian doctrine of Jesus’ first and second coming as messiah – twice in quite similar roles that Essenes were expecting?

        • Bart
          Bart  February 22, 2019

          We know of only four sects from pre-70 Judaism, PHarisees, Sadducees, Essenes, and Fourth Philosophy. Unfortunately, we have no writings from three of them, and so we don’t have definitive evidence. But since the Pharisees and the Fourth Philosophy both held to the notion of the resurrection of the dead — as we know from other writings *about* them — it appears they were apocalpticists, and so far as we know apocalypticists always had a messianic understanding. I wouldn’t say the Essene view is more or less complicated than the Christian, just very very different.

          • Avatar
            John Murphy  February 22, 2019

            Did a typical or ‘average’ Jew in Jerusalem at that time see himself as belonging to a particular sect?

          • Bart
            Bart  February 24, 2019

            No. It’s a major point. Jewish sects were not like Chrsitian denominations, where most Jews/Christians belonged to one. The sects probably had some thousands in them, each. Jews may have numbered over 4 million at the time.

          • Avatar
            Eskil  February 22, 2019

            I found a couple of research papers about Pharisees. Both concluded that Pharisees and Sadducees left no written records about their believes and doctrines. NT is not reliable source about these sects because it is so biased i.e. hostile towards the two. Based on Josephus both sects belong to the ruling elite in Jerusalem. Pharisees were apparently a very minority group working in administrative offices. Later claims that Pharisees were apocalyptic is a very surprising because apocalyptic beliefs play so minority role in the OT.

            Based on this I conclude that, when Peter or the NT writers identifies Jesus as messiah, only the claim that Peter and/or Jesus’ followers were Essenes can be historically somehow backed up based on the evidence found in the dead seas scrolls. Any other claim or theory seems to be a pure speculation based on the absence of evidence of the Jewish believes prior year 70.

          • Bart
            Bart  February 24, 2019

            The problem is that they do not practice Judaism at all like the Essenes did.

          • Avatar
            dankoh  February 22, 2019

            I consider the early Christians – the ‘Jesus Movement’ – to be a Jewish sect until sometime after the destruction of the Second Temple, probably by 85-90CE, certainly by 100 CE. It’s important to remember that the first followers of Jesus were all Jews and were competing with the Pharisees, etc. to become normative Judaism. Josephus doesn’t include them in his list of Jewish “sects” probably because at that time they were too small.

          • Avatar
            Eskil  February 24, 2019

            I think the account of Essenes in Jewish Encyclopaedia is interesting. It says the following:

            “The silence of the New Testament about the Essenes is perhaps the best proof that they furnished the new sect with its main elements both as regards personnel and views. The similarity in many respects between Christianity and Essenism is striking…”

            Then follows a long list of similarities but the article continues with the following remark:

            “Nevertheless, the attitude of Jesus and his disciples is altogether anti-Essene”


            You have said yourself many times that gospels are NOT history books but rather intent to communicate various theological and power political views of the time they were written — for example Jesus‘ disciples are portrayed as dumb and Jesus’ is portrayed as hostile towards his own family i.e. the leaders of the movement in Jerusalem after Jesus’s death. In addition, many Jesus’ teachings and words are narrated in different stories in different gospels. How reliable the gospels are as source of Jesus life?

            Maybe the reason why Jesus’ attitude appears to be anti-Essene is the same reason why Essenes are not mentioned in NT in the first place. Maybe the greek speaking Christians wanted to cut off their roots to Judaism and Israel after the Jewish revolt against Rome and destruction of Jerusalem to avoid Fiscus Judaicus.

          • Bart
            Bart  February 25, 2019

            So the fact it’s NOT mentioned means it was the MOST important. Hmm… Interesting argument. (Think about all the ways that could be applied! The fact I never have mentioned Jerry Falwell in my books is because he’s my biggest influence!)

          • Avatar
            Eskil  February 25, 2019

            I think it would be problematic if there would be chronicles from Philo and Josephus telling that Jerry Falwell was very influential in your neighborhood back in your days and then you would appear out of nowhere as illiterate loner peasant founding a completely new religion having stickily similar doctrines and practices with him and then later on all Falwell’s original followers would join into your new religion but you and your followers would never ever mention his existence afterwards. It would be called plagiarism today if you used other’s ideas without referencing them.

      • Avatar
        Hngerhman  February 21, 2019

        Dr Ehrman – on the dual Messiah expectations of the Essenes, do the Messianic signs listed in 4Q251 cohere with the Essene priestly figure? It seems a pretty fascinating connection no matter how one cuts it. Thank you!

        • Bart
          Bart  February 22, 2019

          ah, sorry — I haven’t read the fragment for a long time and don’t recall its details!

  10. Avatar
    mikekostura  February 19, 2019

    Thanks for the post – love it. I long suspected that Mark ends with the women not telling anyone about the empty tomb for the very same reason. It would serve to explain why it took so long for the resurrection story to develop – in Mark’s telling, the women kept it a secret for who-knows-how-long.

    But then of course in the later Gospels the women go and tell the disciples right away and all of the appearances happen right away…

    So this idea of the secrecy motif serving to explain why no one really heard anything about Jesus being the Messiah during his lifetime fits with the empty tomb secrecy in mark

  11. Avatar
    brenmcg  February 19, 2019

    Does Wrede think the messianic *secret* is not historical or Jesus claiming to be the messiah is non-historical?

    Why does he think Jesus was crucified?

    • Bart
      Bart  February 20, 2019

      Yes, the secret is not historical and Jesus did not claim to be the messiah, for Wrede. I don’t remember (or maybe never knew) what he thought about the reason for Jesus’ arrest and exectuion.

      • Avatar
        godspell  February 21, 2019

        I find it odd that anyone would think it was difficult to get sentenced to a slow painful death in Roman Palestine, since one of the things you and others continually bring up is that crucifixions were commonplace events, and Jesus’ crucifixion might not even have been the main attraction on that particular day.

        If you don’t understand it, get rid of it. That was the ruling axiom. And all the more operative when dealing with non-citizens in a rebellious tinderbox of a province.

        I see no evidence Jesus believed he’d be ruling in any earthly sense (or that he’d be alive to do so, by the end of his ministry). EXCEPT for one line in Mark–that Mark probably invented.

        People are put to death (or subjected to life sentences) on false testimony and fabricated evidence, to this very day. Why is it hard for you to believe the same could have happened then, when the concept of fair unbiased jurisprudence could barely be said to exist?

        He believed he was a necessary sacrifice for the Kingdom to come. And this really was something his own disciples couldn’t understand, and Pilate certainly wouldn’t have gotten it.

        There are people who sacrifice themselves willingly for things they believe in. We know this for a fact. So why not the person most famous for doing precisely that?

      • Avatar
        John Murphy  February 22, 2019


        But why is Wrede’s theory no longer widely accepted by scholars?

        • Bart
          Bart  February 24, 2019

          I suppose some do accept it. The idea that Mark wants to show Jesus tried to keep a secret is widely held. But there are other explanations. Maybe, for example, he wants to stress that the idea of a suffering messiah was so unusual and unheard of that the mysterious reality of it can be conveyed, in part, by the idea precisely that it was kept a mystery. As one example. Or it could be a motif used to explain why some of the disciples never understood who Jesus was (for example to explain why some of the original disciples did not become followers of Jesus after his death).

          • Avatar
            sotteson  March 7, 2019

            That’s something I’ve never heard before. Do we know of specific disciples that didn’t become Jesus followers after his death? That would seem to argue strongly against a physical resurrection appearance for those who want to claim it literally happened.

          • Bart
            Bart  March 8, 2019

            Nothing specific. But in my book How Jesus Became God I make an argument that the stories about “some doubted” show that some of the disciples never did believe he was raised.

  12. Avatar
    brenmcg  February 19, 2019

    There’s a bit of the messianic secret in John “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.”

    Could this kind be historical rather than the kind found in Mark where every passage seems to have Jesus trying to keep it secret?

    • Bart
      Bart  February 20, 2019

      yes, a bit! But the point is that in John Jesus continually *does* tell them. Notice his response.

  13. Avatar
    Jim Cherry  February 19, 2019

    An enjoyment of life is having an “ah ha” moment, and this post is one. That explanation really does give more meaning to the Gospel of Mark.
    Thank you.

  14. Avatar
    godspell  February 19, 2019

    Would Mark have necessarily expected people to believe his own idiosyncratic flourishes to the story?

    Everybody reading his gospel knew the disciples had not merely accepted Jesus as Messiah, but had devoted their lives to proclaiming him as such, in the face of strong public opposition and some personal risk.

    I believe the concept of irony existed at that time? In fact, it’s derived from Greek theater, a stock character called Eiron. (See, I told you Mark was a theater buff!)

    Mark clearly is telling a more bare-bones unembellished version of the gospel story–he’s either unaware of the Q material, or has left it out (I find it hard to believe he’d leave all of it out). And he has, as Wrede saw, put his own spin on it (while still probably changing it less than the other gospel authors).

    But unlike the others, he’s making changes he EXPECTS people not to necessarily take literally. He’s intentionally emphasizing the incomprehension of everyone Jesus came into contact with, because his point is that nobody understood Jesus until after his death, and then only by degrees–through a glass darkly, then face to face.

    Perhaps even at the time of writing, he thinks nobody (even himself) fully understands who Jesus was, what he really meant, what actually happened, but with effort you can get closer, over time. Perhaps he believes that when enough people do finally understand and believe, the Kingdom will come and the story will be complete–until then, it’s unfinished, which is why his original version ends on such an inconclusive note. A cliffhanger, if you will.

    It’s hard to fully understand anyone. We misunderstand people we know in our own lives, every day. We grow to know each other by degrees, and there’s always another layer to be peeled away.

    It’s a profound insight, gotten across through dramatic irony, which the more sophisticated readership Mark wrote for probably understood pretty well. However, once it became one of the four central texts of a major religion–well, irony never plays in Peoria, they do say.

    • Avatar
      Leovigild  February 21, 2019

      “Everybody reading his gospel knew the disciples had not merely accepted Jesus as Messiah, but had devoted their lives to proclaiming him as such, in the face of strong public opposition and some personal risk. “

      I am not sure why everybody reading would ‘know’ that, since I heavily doubt that was true.

      • Avatar
        godspell  February 22, 2019

        What I typed is consistent with the current view of modern scholarship. Including the scholarship of people who have abandoned religion, or never had it to start with. Christianity didn’t just spring out of the earth. There was a Jesus. He had followers. After his death, they came to believe he’d been resurrected. Their original explanation for this was that he was Messiah. Over a period of time, this evolved into believing him the adopted Son of God, the begotten Son of God, the incarnate Word of God, and then just God.

        There is ample evidence that being a Christian was very hard–not always in terms of direct persecution, but that was always a risk, and many were killed in a variety of unpleasant ways–certainly some of the disciples paid for their beliefs with their lives. The original Christians were almost all Jews, and had to face the scorn and disbelief of other Jews, who could not reconcile Jesus’ life and death with him being the Messiah.

        This is all based on scholarly research, not faith. I myself don’t believe Jesus was any of the things his disciples and later Christians came to believe he was. I think he was something much more remarkable. A good man.

  15. Avatar
    ddorner  February 19, 2019

    This is a very interesting thread. But now I’m very confused. I thought the view held by scholars was that Jesus did indeed say in secret that he was the Messiah. And that’s what Judas betrayed to the Roman authorities (and got Jesus crucified). Was that secret embellished by Mark?

    • Bart
      Bart  February 20, 2019

      I”m talking only about Wrede’s views, not the views of contemporary scholars. (What you summarized, btw, is my own view; I’m not sure it’s a majority view among scholars)

  16. Avatar
    crt112@gmail.com  February 20, 2019

    Amazing how often your explanations make sense of what were previously difficult verses or stories. We’ve (the average bible reader) spent so many years skipping over the difficult bits that we ignore them. The whole Messianic secret theme was always a bit weird – and the usual Christian explanations never really made sense.But the concept that Mark was trying to explain the lack of acknowledgement of Jesus’ Messiahship is the missing piece in the puzzle.

  17. Avatar
    dennislk1  February 20, 2019

    Matthew 5:17-18 New International Version (NIV)
    The Fulfillment of the Law
    17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.

    I believe that the God of Abraham could have as easily had Jesus be the first-born to the high priest as to be born to Mary and Joseph. Therefore, it seems to me that Jesus’ purpose was to start Christianity and not to change Judaism. It was apparently important that Judaism exist until the victors of WWII made Israel into a country once again so that Israel would exist as a country at the second coming of Jesus. This seems to imply then that the reason that Jesus wanted to keep the fact that He was the Messiah a secret from the Jews was because He wanted Judaism and the Jews to continue to exist as a people separate from Christianity?

    • Bart
      Bart  February 20, 2019

      I think there is very little reason to think Jesus understood himself to be starting a *new* religion (Christianity). He was a Jewish teacher of the Jewish law with a Jewish understanding of his entire world, and never imagined he was doing anything non-Jewish.

      • Avatar
        godspell  February 20, 2019

        Also, religion is an earthly institution, meant to intercede and interpret between God(s) and Humanity.

        In the Kingdom, what need would there be for religion? God now rules directly. No need for intercessors or interpreters. Only good people are there–and Jesus doesn’t seem to think which franchise they adhere to is the basis for them being there.

        So of course he’s not trying to found a new institution–that would exist for only a few years before being made irrelevant. He is a Jew, believes Judaism is the closest humanity has come to understanding God’s will, but clearly he also believes somebody who is not at all Jewish can be in the Kingdom, and somebody who has followed the outward forms of that faith unerringly can be among the goats. By their fruits shall ye know them. Not where they profess their faith, but how they act on it.

        It’s not unlike much later socialist ideas, including those of Marx. The goal isn’t to set up a new system of government, but ultimately to make government obsolete–the state itself withers away.

        Utopianism is just a more rationalistic (which is not to say rational) form of Apocalypticism. The same human impulse, reflected in endless ways, but always with the same end–to resolve our conflicts and confusions for all time.

        At least Jesus acknowledged one certain truth–perfection can only come from God. Humans are inherently imperfect, and nothing we create can ever succeed as planned, or remain in balance, because life is change.

        The pattern will keep recurring until we grow up. If we ever do.

  18. Avatar
    AlanK  February 20, 2019

    Hi Dr Erhman,
    I enjoy reading your blog. A question for you – would Wrede’s hypothesis still hold water if the Gospel of Mark wasn’t the earliest gospel? Most scholars believe Mark was written before Matthew and Luke, but the fact is it is still a hypothesis (albeit very popular).

    • Bart
      Bart  February 20, 2019

      Yes, it would still hold. And yes, I suppose it’s a hypothesis, but it’s not a guess. There is substantial evidence.

    • webo112
      webo112  February 21, 2019

      “Most scholars believe Mark was written before Matthew and Luke, but the fact is it is still a hypothesis (albeit very popular).”

      But a hypothesis too as well would be an alternative to say Luke or Mathew being written first and before Mark’s Gosple…and one would need to defend that view, with evidence/reasoning etc.

      So in the battle of evidence (where the absolute truth is not known), Mark wins.

      • webo112
        webo112  February 21, 2019

        Meant to say “…So in the battle of hypothesizes; using evidence, (where the absolute truth is not known), Mark wins”

      • Bart
        Bart  February 22, 2019

        Yes, you could come up with a hundred hypotheses (people have!). But each one has to be tested, and all are not equal! (Think: science! Or: history!)

  19. Avatar
    Tim_Cottingham  February 20, 2019

    NAME YOUR PRICE Professor Ehrman.

    Hi Professor Ehrman,

    This is my first post as a fledgling blog member – thank you for all you contribute to both our learning and your selected charities. I have a challenge for you. I have an Anglican vicar friend who recently completely rejected my claims that the gospels are riddled with inconsistencies and contradictions. Your name, amongst other far less ‘controversial liberals’ (Craig Evans) naturally came up.

    I was a little taken aback – he’s an Oxford Theology grad so I’d assumed he’d be well on-board with critical scholarship, experts in the field, and general consensus on discrepancies. Apparently not.

    I quote Rev. Matthew Firth verbatim:

    “I spent 3 years at Oxford debating with better scholars and atheists than the ones you quoted. Get your scholars to send me some contradictions, and I will happily blow them out of the water.”

    “I will challenge them to give me a Gospels contradiction that I can’t refute.”

    So my proposition. Tell us how much you’d like us to contribute to the blog in return for an answer to Rev. Firth’s (arrogant) challenge and if it’s an achievable figure we’ll start the fundraising this March. I’m sure you won’t struggle for any bomb proof examples.

    What say you?

    Love from England,


    • Bart
      Bart  February 20, 2019

      $1000. But in his mind, he will solve any contradiction. I too was once a fundamentalist, and with fundamentalist assumptions, you can reconcile anything.

      • Avatar
        Pattylt  February 20, 2019

        Won’t he trot out the “possibilities “ but never actual probabilities? That’s what I witness in these “blow them out of the water” rebuttals. Go get em, Bart!

      • Avatar
        fishician  February 20, 2019

        Too true! It’s amazing the way they can squirm out of any discrepancy or contradiction put before them! And the ultimate cop-out: the error is in our understanding, not in the book!

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        Tim_Cottingham  February 21, 2019

        All too true. I’m sure your response will tighten up his dog-collar a little more anyway…

        We’ll be in touch when we’ve got the money.

    • Robert
      Robert  February 20, 2019

      ” Your name, amongst other far less ‘controversial liberals’ (Craig Evans) naturally came up.”

      Wow. If he considers Craig Evans to be a liberal, then he must be about as fundamentalist as they come. All inconsistencies can be resolved in the minds of fundamentalists. All things are possible with God …

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      doug  February 20, 2019

      When the scriptures have blatant contradictions and mere mortals think they can do a better job of explaining the supposed word of God than the scriptures, so as to make the contradictions go away, that’s not saying much for the scriptures.

    • Avatar
      Loring  February 24, 2019


      Like Bart, I’m a former fundamentalist/inerrantist. I agree with Bart that when you believe the Bible is inerrant, you will dismiss any argument that says otherwise. So, it is unlikely that providing examples will persuade your friend.

      And yet, I stopped believing in inerrancy. How? Let me share two events that slipped through my fundamentalist defenses and planted seeds of doubt in my commitment to inerrancy. Perhaps they could impact your friend.

      The first event was reading Stephen Davis’ book, “The Debate about the Bible: Inerrancy versus Infallibility.” Yes, the book is from 1977, but this event happened in 1983. Although one of my fundamentalist seminary professors called the book “trashy,” it didn’t seem “trashy” to me one I read it. I think Davis got me to ask questions because he didn’t insult the Bible. He simply compared what the Bible said here versus there, and showed why inerrantist justifications didn’t apply.

      The second turning point came a few months later–and Bart will appreciate this exercise! I did a comparative study of the events in Matt 21-26 and Mark 11-14. At the time I was adept with Greek, so I looked carefully at the time indicators in the passages.

      I was stunned. You cannot reconcile the two accounts. Matthew says the events took 2 days, Mark says it was 3. Either the money changers were driven out before the cursing of the fig tree (Matt) or vice versa (Mark). Either the fig tree was cursed and withered immediately (Matt), or it was cursed one day, and seen to be withered the next day (Mark).

      To an inerrantist, both accounts are supposed to be historically correct. But they cannot be. To be fair, I had doubts about inerrancy before I did the study (and that is significant), but this exercise sealed the deal. I stopped believing in inerrancy. Note that this was during the fall, and I still had another semester to complete my ThM degree–from a seminary that considered inerrancy an essential doctrine. Yes, I kept my new views to myself and my head down until graduation!

      As Bart said, inerrantists will have a solution for the contradictions I pointed out. An important question you might put forth to your friend is whether one brings the doctrine of inerrancy TO the Bible, or whether one should derive their view of the Bible FROM the Bible. If it obviously makes mistakes, then it is not inerrant. No theological gymnastics required.


  20. Avatar
    roybart  February 20, 2019

    Re: your response to Tom Cottington. From what he describes I would have labelled the Anglican theologian an inerrantist, with the case for fundamentalism not proven.

    I may be wrong in my understanding of these two terms. Bart, what is your understanding of these labels? Are the synonyms? If not (and I have never thought so) what IS the relationship between them?

    • Bart
      Bart  February 22, 2019

      Yes, you’re probably right. Fundamentalists are always (I think!) inerrantists, but there can be inerrantists who are not fundamentalist. Still, I would say that inerrancy is a fundamentally fundamentalist notion, developed principally, in its modern form, in fundamentalist circles, so that if someone *is* an inerrantist in the modern sense, that this part of their belief system is fundamentalist, even if they don’t have other features of fundamentalism (e.g., dispensational premillenialistic theology and a narrow sectarian view of themselves and other “Christians”)

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