Interrupting Ehrman: Are There Biblical Contradictions?

(Originally printed in the Fall 2010 Issue of the MCOI Journal)

Watching a court jury trial and watching a debate have a number of similarities. In both cases, you have one set of evidence, but you have two opposing sides that attempt to explain the evidence in such a way that they will persuade the audience or jury to view their story as more credible. The underlying idea is to get at the truth, but that does not necessarily happen. Sometimes, the side that wins is not the side that had a better understanding and grasp of the truth, but rather the one that man­ages to poison the jury against the evi­dence. This was essentially the case in the O.J. Simpson trial. 1 The case was fairly straightforward. Nicole, Simp­son’s ex-wife, was brutally murdered. There was a fair amount of incriminat­ing evidence, some of which the jury was able to see and some of which the presiding judge allowed to be hidden from the jury. This sometimes happens in pre-trial negotiations.

Just reviewing the evidence and the history between O.J. and Nicole Simpson, the jury would likely have come to the verdict he was guilty. After all, he had been abusive toward her. The police had been called in on a number of occasions, and he came across as very jealous and possessive even though they were divorced. All this was more than sufficient to establish a motive, which is, in turn, crucial for establishing intent.

The defense did not spend a great deal of time explaining how such evidence did not demonstrate Simpson was motivated to kill his ex-wife. Instead, they put forth the idea that the lead detective, Mark Fuhrman, was a racist. This was a remarkably ef­fective salvo—implying the evidence and all who were involved in collecting and examining it were tainted—and completely dis­dis­tracted the jury from the compellingly-established motive. Now, it may be true Fuhrman was a racist, I have no idea, but the as­sertion stuck well enough that there was no need for the defense to prove their claim. All they needed was to instill this idea in the mind of the jury with a few well-placed assertions and comments that could at least sound as though he was a racist. I suppose I would have to ask, even if he was a rac­ist, does that necessarily mean evidence was fabricated and/or tampered with? Is it possible even a racist could take pride in doing their job well and profession­ally? However, as it was, there was no need to prove their point. All Simpson’s “Dream Team” of defense attorneys had to do was create doubt in the minds of the jury in order to get an acquittal. By conjecturing that a racist handled the case, all of the evidence became ques­tionable; and the prosecutor, Marcia Clark, was not able to overcome that is­sue throughout the balance of the case.

EhrmanI thought about this as I sat in the audience during the de­bate between Dr. Bart Ehrman* and Dr. Craig Evans at the Dead Sea Scrolls/EMNR2 Conference at Midwestern Baptist Theo­logical Seminary in March of 2010. I understand it is easy to take pot shots from the pew. There was no pressure on me or the rest of the audience as we observed, took notes, and agreed or disagreed with the points made. However, being in front of the audience who are, in this case, functioning as the jury, puts enor­mous pressure on the debaters. Dr. Evans is an accomplished scholar, but I think he suffered a similar fate as that of Marcia Clark. Bart Ehrman did not really try to explain the evidence or make a positive case for his position. Instead, he employed the same tactic used against Mark Fuhrman: One cannot trust the evidence, because it was gathered by biased people. Ehrman’s approach was fundamentally a three-step process.

First, he spent some time outlining what he called a “wish list” that he contends are all the things historians would like to have when doing their historical research. He then mentioned the Gospel accounts do not contain all the criteria of that wish list.

Second, he painted a picture of the stories contained in the Gospels traveling across continents, people groups and languages for 35 to 70 years before any of the Gospel ac­counts were written. He asserted that none of the eyewitnesses or anyone who personally knew the eyewitnesses were still living when the accounts were penned. According to his claim, the long period of time, many languages, cultures, and continents corrupted, added to, expanded up and even invented material in the story which never actually occurred in history. In this setting, the Gospels are little more than myth and fable fabricated to feed the religious proclivities of naïve, uneducated Christians and to guide public thinking about the claims of the church.

Third, Ehrman then put forth examples of what he claimed were contradictions, “some major, some minor” but in his view, contradictions nonetheless. These, according to him, demonstrate the texts are unreliable. Needless to say, I was unconvinced.

In the first place, just because historians may have a wish list they would like to have fulfilled, it is rare that this occurs. In truth, historians work with what they have and make the best case they can with what is available. Even though he may not have his “wish list” fulfilled in this case, that does not mean there is not good, historical evidence demonstrating the reliability of the Gospel accounts and their claims. What he has done is try to eliminate or poison the evidence. He has done that by simply asserting the Gospels are the product of writers who were far removed from the events the Gospel accounts record. My first question would be, what is the evidence his claim is true? He did not provide any. Simply making the assertion does nothing to support the assertion. In fact, it really appears this long period of time is necessary for his view to have any credibility. On the other hand, the evidence we do have shows this claim is either mis­informed or worse, it is false.

An Unusual Starting Point

Simply making an assertion does not make a case. The onus is on Ehrman to prove his claim and make a case for late dating beyond his own desire for it to be so. Con­versely, it is also insufficient for me to simply assert he is wrong. I need to demonstrate why I would hold to an earlier date for the writing of the Gospels that is plausible and has evidence to support it. The starting point for this might seem to some to be unusual, but bear with me as I work through the reasoning and what I believe is the evidence for affirming early dating.

In a sense, we will be starting with evidence outside the documents in question, the Gospels, and work back into them. We can get a good idea of when things were written by starting with the end of the Book of Acts. This work ends with the Apostle Paul under house arrest in Rome awaiting trial before Caesar. He had yet to be set free, rearrested, tried and executed. If Acts had been written after Paul’s death, something about his death would have been included. Paul died in the mid-60s.3 This would place the tim­ing of the writing of the book of Acts in the early 60s—perhaps AD 60 or 61.4 We can even tell when the writer, Luke, was present for some of the events in the book of Acts but not for others, because he switches between “we” statements and “they” statements throughout the book.

Acts is the second work of the same author: Dr. Luke.5 His first work is, the Gospel According to Luke. Just to note the obvious, first works generally are written prior to second works. Luke confirms this progression in the first two verses of Acts as well: “The first account I composed, Theophilus, about all that Jesus began to do and teach until the day when He was taken up to heaven, after He had by the Holy Spirit given orders to the apostles whom He had chosen.” (NASB) Acts was written in the early 60s, Luke was written before that, so it would be dated mid-50s to early 60s.6 This would be merely 27 years after the events recorded in the Gospels, and it is not the 35 to 70 years Ehrman needs to allow for “Jesus myths” to develop. But the problem regard­ing the evidence gets worse.

Ehrman insists some of the material in Luke came from the Gospel According to Mark. That is very likely true and further weakens his case. In order to borrow from Mark, that Gospel would have had to have existed at least long enough for Luke to be aware of it. So, these considerations date Acts to the early 60s, Luke to the mid-50s to early 60s, Mark to at least the 50s.7 Now, the available time for the Jesus myths to develop is shorter yet. But his dilemma gets worse and interrupting Ehrman’s assertion grows easier. A scholarly slip is rearing its head.

We have an early church creed contained in 1 Corinthians 15:1-4. The Apostle recites this early church creed which he informs his readers was passed down to him (1 Cor. 15:3). The creed is early, generally dated to the 30s. The interesting thing about creeds is: They need time to develop. First, a need for a creed arises. Creeds were and are statements of belief which are easily memorized and recited by the average person. It is a sort of theologi­cal shorthand. Paul would have received this when he was in Jerusalem—most likely in the late 30’s AD. It is a little time for the need and then the development of creeds and several critical scholars believe the creed was extant in the 30’s and that Paul received it within three to eight years of its existence. That would be the late 30’s or early 40’s. Dr. Gary Habermas points out:

In examining the cause of the disciple’s faith, I pointed out earlier that the Resurrection was proclaimed by the earliest eyewitnesses. This is especially based, for instance, on 1 Cor. 15:3ff, where all scholars agree that Paul recorded an ancient creed concerning Jesus’ death and Resurrection. That means this material is traditional and pre-Pauline is evident from the technical terms deliv­ered and received, the parallelism and somewhat stylized content, the proper names of Cephas and James, the non-Pauline words, and the possibility of an Aramaic original.

Concerning the date of this creed, critical scholars almost always agree that has a very early origin, usually placing it in the AD 30s. Paul most likely received this material during his first visit in Jerusalem with Peter and James, who are included in the first appearances (1 Cor. 15:5,7). In fact, Fuller, Hunter, and Pan­nenberg are examples of critical scholars who date Paul’s receiving of this creed from three to eight years after the Crucifixion itself. And if Paul received it at such an early date, the creed itself would have been earlier because it would have existed before the time he was told. And the facts upon which the creed was originally based would be earlier still. We are, for all practical purposes, back to the original events. So we may now realize how this data is much earlier than the ten to twenty years after the Crucifixion as postulated by Dr. Flew. Paul also adds that the other eyewitnesses had likewise been testifying concerning their own appearances of Jesus (1 Cor. 15:11, 14, 15).8

The creed was extant in the 30s AD, and Paul received it within 3 to 8 years. Ehrman not only does not have the 35 to 70 years for the Gospel myths to develop, but also the creed about the Resurrection of Jesus was in use within a few years of the event in the city in which it actually occurred. Not only is the historical evidence for the Resurrection here, but it also meets nearly all of Ehrman’s wish list criteria.

Did Mark Believe in the Resurrection?

Ehrman and others who wish to “poison the evidence” often appeal to the Gospel of Mark in an attempt to claim the early church did not believe in the Resurrection and the Resurrection portion was a later addition. According to this claim, the bulk of Mark 16 (after v. 8) was not in the original and was added later. Therefore, the reasoning goes, Mark did not believe in the Resurrection. I have a two-part response. First, we do know what the early church believed about the Resurrection through the creed which was in use within 3 to 8 years of the event as previously noted. Second, even if the last portion of Mark was added, we still do know what Mark believed about the Resurrection when he wrote his account.

We start with a couple of questions: Did Mark think Jesus was a true prophet or a false prophet? Maybe not God and, perhaps, not resurrected, but He certainly was a true prophet. Next question, was the Gospel written before or after the Crucifixion? Well, obviously after. Once this is established we need to take a walk through the Gospel According to Mark, keep­ing in mind Mark wrote his Gospel believing Jesus was, at the very least, a true prophet. Writing after the events had occurred, it would have been written in such a way so as to have any prophecies contained in it reflect his idea of Jesus as being a true prophet.

In Mark 8:31, we read: “And He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suf fer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.” This seems to be a clear prophecy presented by One Whom Mark considered to be a true prophet. If Mark did not believe in the Resurrection, he would not have included this information. But there is more.

In Mark 9:9, he records: “And as they were coming down from the mountain, He gave them orders not to relate to any­one what they had seen, until the Son of Man should rise from the dead.” A few verses later, in Mark 9:31 we read: “For He was teaching His disciples and telling them, ‘The Son of Man is to be delivered into the hands of men, and will kill Him; and when He is killed, He will rise three days later.”

In the next chapter, Mark 10:34, he reports: “And they will mock Him and spit upon Him, and scourge Him, and kill Him, and three days later He will rise again.” Additionally, in Mark 14:28, Jesus tells his followers: “But after I have been raised, I will go before you to Galilee.”

Then there is the account of non-believers who were hostile witnesses in Mark 14:58: “We heard Him say, ‘I will destroy this temple made with hands, and in three days I will build another made without hands.’ ” By the way, this confirms what Jesus did say, which is documented in John 2:19-21.

Lastly, we have His detractors at the Crucifixion who used His prophetic words against Him in Mark 15:29: “And those passing by were hurling abuse at Him, wagging their heads, and saying, ‘Ha! You who are going to destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days …’ ”

Evidence that Mark believed in the Resurrection is actually found throughout his eyewitness account.

There is a great deal of information which Bart Ehrman and others in his school of thought must address. Dr. Gary Habermas made note of a number of them in his book Did Jesus Rise from the Dead?:

At least eleven events are considered to be know­able history by virtually all scholars, and a twelfth event is considered to be knowable history by many scholars.

(1) Jesus died due to the rigors of crucifixion and (2) was buried. (3) Jesus’ death caused the disciples to despair and lose hope. (4) Although not as frequently recognized, many scholars hold that Jesus was buried in a tomb that was discovered to be empty just a few days later.

Critical scholars even agree that (5) at this time the disciples had real experiences that they believed were literal appearances of the risen Jesus. Because of these experiences, (6) the disciples were transformed from doubters who were afraid to identify themselves with Jesus to bold proclaimers of his death and Resur­rection, even being willing to die for this belief. (7) This message was central in the early church preaching and (8) was especially proclaimed in Jerusalem, where Je­sus had died shortly before.

As a result of this message, (9) the church was born and grew, (10) with Sunday as the primary day of wor­ship. (11) James, the brother of Jesus and a skeptic, was converted to the faith when he also believed he saw the resurrected Jesus. (12) A few years later Paul the persecutor of the Christians was also converted by an experience that he, similarly, believed to be an ap­pearance of the risen Jesus.9

A fair-minded treatment of the evidence and way to ex­plain these 12 historic events seems to lead conclusively to ac­cept the Gospel accounts are what they claim to be: Writings by the eyewitnesses and/or individuals close to the eyewitnesses documenting the truthfulness of the claims of the early church. Simply trying to “poison the evidence” does little to prove it is myth, and it does nothing to substantiate an opposing view is true. A positive case for the alternate position must also be built. Ehrman simply did not attempt to carry this out.

What of the Seeming Contradictions?

Although we can credibly establish the Gospel accounts were written early by followers of Jesus or others who were close to them, this does not mean the accounts are necessarily trustworthy. His claims there are contradictions must also be ad­dressed. Ehrman simply asserting there are contradictions does not mean there are; nor does my asserting there are not contra­dictions mean there are not.

Ehrman set up this proposed dilemma in an interesting way. His claim was that Evangelicals tend to read the Gospels from beginning to end. They read them with a start, middle, and con­clude with the Resurrection. He claimed we needed to read them across by comparing each section with the same sections of the other Gospels. It is there, he contends, the contradictions surface most clearly. He went on to claim that if we try to put the stories together to answer the charges, we are then creating yet another Gospel or somehow changing the “BIG Picture.” This is a case of “special pleading” or “stacking the deck.”10

Simply because all of the accounts do not contain the exact same details in exactly the same way does not mean nor prove there are actual contradictions.11 By assembling or comparing the accounts as Ehrman started off challenging the audience to do, we are not by definition creating yet another Gospel. This was used as a way to discourage an actual response. As we approach this alleged dilemma, an example of seeming contradictions by reliable sources may be helpful. From time to time, the late Ken­neth Kantzer12 told a story of a personal experience where seem­ing contradictions turned out not to be contradictions once all of the facts were assembled and compared.

One day he received a phone call from a reliable friend. He was told a young lady they both knew had been standing on a corner waiting for the light to change, was struck by a car, but she was not seriously injured. A little while later, he received another call from another trusted friend who communicated that the same young lady had been riding in a car which was broad sided by a truck, and she was instantly killed. Both witnesses were reliable, but there clearly seemed to be contradictions in their stories. Kantzer later learned that, indeed, the young lady had been standing on a corner waiting for the light to change when a vehicle struck her. She was injured but not seriously. The driver got her in the car and was taking her to the hospital to get her checked out. On the way to the hospital, they were driving through an intersection, and a truck ran the red light and broadsided the car—killing the girl instantly. Combining all of the facts of both accounts did not create an entirely new story; they simply cleared up seeming inconsistencies and told the en­tire story. Most of Ehrman’s alleged contradictions fall into this category. His main examples were:

1) Who went to the tomb: Was it Mary Magdalene and an­other Mary; was it the two Marys and Salome? Was it Mary Magdalene, Joanna, another Mary? Was it Mary Magda­lene by herself? It depends which Gospel you read.

2) Was the stone already rolled away by the time they got there, or did it roll away when they arrived?

3) Whom did they meet there to tell them that Jesus was raised? An angel? A man? Two men? Or Jesus himself? (John 20:1: She saw the stone was rolled away and so ran back to tell Simon Peter; later Jesus appears to her.)

4) Do the women assume Jesus has been raised (Syn­optics) because that’s what they’re told, or do they assume He’s been buried in some other place (John) since His body is not in the tomb?

5) Who first comes to realize Jesus has been raised? The women (the Synoptics) or Simon Peter and the be­loved disciple (John)?

6) Are the women told anything upon first finding the tomb empty (Synoptics: yes; John: no)?

7) What are they told? To tell the disciples to go to Gali­lee to meet Jesus there, or that Jesus told them while He was still in Galilee that He would rise.

8) Did they tell the disciples? Mark 16:8. The end. Con­trast Matthew 28:8 and Luke 24:9.13

It seems if we take Ehrman at his challenge and assemble the same accounts from the different authors, either we will see the contradictions, or doing so will eliminate the seeming contra­dictions. I believe it will be the latter.

1) Who went to the tomb: Was it Mary Magdalene and another Mary; was it the two Marys and Salome? Was it Mary Magdalene, Joanna, another Mary? Was it Mary Magdalene by herself? It depends which Gospel you read.

Matthew 28:1 tells us it was: Mary Magdalene and the other Mary. Mark 16:1 names Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James [the other Mary] and Salome. Luke informs us in Luke 23:55 that just prior to the beginning of the Sabbath the “women who had come with Him out of Galilee” had gone to the tomb to see where it was and then returned to prepare the burial spices. This would be a larger group than the three so far named, but it would have included them. In Luke 24:1, he references this group when he continued this account: “But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb…” The “they” here is the same “they” as in the previous two verses, Luke 23:55 and 56. Lastly, John 20:1 names Mary Magdalene.

The problem here is not with any of the texts, but rather it is with Ehrman taking each account as though each writer is giv­ing an exhaustive list of who came to the tomb. We can tell by his question: Was it Mary Magdalene by herself?But that is simply not the case. Not only does John not say “only” Mary Magdalene came to the tomb—something that would have to be included in order for Ehrman’s assumption to hold any valid­ity, but also none of the writers make the claim only those they named came to the tomb. The writers keyed in on individuals which were important to them for particular reasons. Three of the accounts name Mary Magdalene: Matthew, Mark and John. Two accounts name “the other Mary”: Matthew and Mark. One account, Mark, names Salome. Luke does not name any of the women. Using Ehrman’s methodology, that would mean Mary Magdalene, the other Mary, and Salome were not there accord­ing to Luke’s account; which is an absurd claim.

So, the answer to the question is a simple one. It was Mary Magdalene, the other Mary, Salome and the rest of the women who followed Him out of Galilee. Ehrman provided no evidence to dem­onstrate this is not the case, and compiling all of the evidence from the accounts clears up and answers the supposed contradictions.

2) Was the stone already rolled away by the time they got there, or did it roll away when they arrived?

The account in Matthew 28:2 reports that a “severe earth­quake had occurred, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled away the stone and sat upon it.” The word “had” indicates something which happened earlier in time—prior to the arrival of the women. Mark describes the dis­cussion the women were having on the way to the tomb about how to get the stone moved. The stone had been rolled away prior to their arrival (Mark 16:3-4). We find the same descrip­tion in Luke 24:2. The stone had been rolled away prior to their arrival. John agrees with the other narratives in John 20:1 that “the stone already taken away from the tomb.” Again, without changing any material facts but simply listing them together, we find no contradiction. In all accounts the stone had been rolled away prior to the arrival of the group of women.

3) Whom did they meet there to tell them that Jesus was raised? An angel? A man? Two men? Or Jesus himself? (John 20:1: She saw the stone was rolled away and so ran back to tell Simon Peter; later Jesus appears to her.)

Matthew writes that the angel who had rolled away the stone told them Jesus had risen and invited them to look inside the tomb (Matt. 28:5-6). They then met Jesus (Matt. 28:9). Mark describes a “young man … wearing a white robe” sitting in the tomb who told them Jesus had risen (Mark 16:5-6). Luke’s ac­count describes two men in “dazzling apparel” who told them He had risen (Luke 24:4-6). In John 20:12-13, Mary Magdalene saw two angels; and in 20:16, she saw Jesus. John supplied addi­tional but not contradictory material. According to the account, this was her second trip to the tomb that morning. She had gone there “while it was still dark” (John 20:1), saw the stone rolled away, ran to tell Peter (John 20:2), and then returned (20:11 and following).

A few things here. It is not uncommon for angels to be re­ferred to as “men” or “young men” in both Old and New Testa­ments. We find this as early as Genesis 18, where angels are referred to as “men” in verses 2, 16, 22. One of the “men” was “The LORD” or YHWH (18:1), and the other two “men” are re­ferred to as “angels” in 19:1. When angels or the LORD took on physical appearances in Scripture, it was most often as looking like men. The additional information of “wearing a white robe” (Mark) and having “dazzling apparel” (Luke) helps to clarify that the “men” were angels.

When we study any document, including Scripture, it is nec­essary, honest, and even scholarly to use the historical grammati­cal understanding of the text and how the culture that wrote and read the text used language. Following that injunction, what we have as an answer to this question is, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb while it was dark—before morning light. She found the stone rolled away, the tomb empty, and ran back to tell Peter. She then returned as morning was dawning, and the other women (all of the women who had followed Jesus from Galilee) were also going to the tomb. Two angels greeted them; the one who told them Jesus had risen was sitting on the stone that had been rolled away. Another angel inside the tomb confirmed Jesus had risen and was then joined by the angel who had been outside the tomb. As they turned to leave, Mary Magdalene was weeping when she ran into Jesus Who was, indeed, resurrected. Again, a careful re­view of the accounts in this fashion does not support the claim of contradiction, but instead, it gives a more comprehensive “BIG Picture,” as Ehrman refers to it.

4) Do the women assume Jesus has been raised (Syn­optics) because that’s what they’re told, or do they assume He’s been buried in some other place (John) since His body is not in the tomb?

This one is a “time” question or “when” question rather than a demonstration of contradictions, because both of the above are true at different times. As previously shown, Mary Magdalene came while it was dark, saw the tomb was empty, and assumed His body had been moved (John 20:1-2). Later, she and the all the other women were told He was raised, and they saw Him after they were told. These two are not contradictions, but rather, both are true at different times of the morning in question.

5) Who first comes to realize Jesus has been raised? The women (the Synoptics) or Simon Peter and the be­loved disciple (John)?

Again, the text, in context, answers this one without any contradiction. As Ehrman agrees, Matthew, Mark, and Luke concur that the women “realized” or knew first. John not only does not contradict this, but rather, he agrees. In John 20:3-8, we read that Peter and John ran to the tomb, saw and believed the tomb was empty, but “… as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that He must rise from the dead” (John 20:9). So, although Peter and John “saw and believed” (John 20:8) the tomb was empty, they did not know what it meant at that point in time; whereas the women had been told by the angels and saw the risen Lord.

6) Are the women told anything upon first finding the tomb empty (Synoptics: yes; John: no)?

The answer to both is “yes” and “no,” but this does not re­sult in a contradiction. Why, you ask? Again, the first time Mary Magdalene went to the tomb, while it was dark, she was not told anything. When Mary Magdalene returned and the other women arrived, they all were told that Jesus was raised.

7) What are they told? To tell the disciples to go to Gali­lee to meet Jesus there, or that Jesus told them while He was still in Galilee that He would rise.

Is there a contradiction here, or are both true? Earlier in this article, we looked at the seven times in the Gospel According to Mark where Jesus clearly stated He would be raised. His stating that He would be resurrected is not the same thing as the dis­ciples understanding what that meant or that it even registered in their thinking at the time. As early as John 2:22, we find He clearly taught the Resurrection of His body (John 2:19-21), but it was not until after the event that the disciples understood, and then they “… remembered that He had said this; and they be­lieved the Scripture and the word which Jesus had spoken.” So, yes, He told them while He was still in Galilee that He would be raised and sent the women to tell the disciples to go and meet Him in Galilee. No contradiction. Both are true, one is predic­tive or prophetic (while He was still in Galilee), and the other is confirmation of prophetic fulfillment.

8) Did they tell the disciples? Mark 16:8. The end. Con­trast Matthew 28:8 and Luke 24:9.

The answer is … “no” and “yes.” Mary Magdalene ran and told Peter and John the tomb was empty (John 20:1-2). She re­turned, and the other women arrived. Being gripped with fear, most of the women fled and said nothing after seeing and hear­ing the angels. (Mark 16:8) Mary Magdalene and some of the women met up with Jesus (Matthew 28: 8-10; John 20:15-17), and then she and other women went and told the disciples (Luke 24:9-10; John 20:18). Just as in the answer to point four, both are true at different times of the Resurrection morning and are, therefore, not contradictory.

Ehrman stated:

You will find dozens of discrepancies in the details. Let me stress: It’s not good enough to say that these are all just minor details. The BIG picture is made up of lots and lots of details; if you change all the details, you change the BIG picture.14

So, far he has not provided any examples of actual contra­dictions. None of these are minor details. He is correct; the “BIG Picture”is made up of lots and lots of details. Cross checking the details—the “when” and “where” of details in historical nar­rative—is important and builds the “BIG Picture.” Each of Eh­rman’s above claims demonstrates slips in his research, reading, and teaching on this issue. This raises questions. Is this inten­tional dishonesty, poor scholarship, or something else? These are questions I cannot answer, but they are worth considering.

One Other Issue

This wasn’t in the debate, but Bart Ehrman claims there are more errors in the New Testament manuscript copies then there are words in the New Testament. His claim is true; they are copy­ist’s errors. However, in the end this is a meaningless and inef­fectual claim because of the nature of these copyist’s errors. The reason is two-fold.

First, the copyist’s errors do not change any major or minor doctrine. It is not as though one copy says “Jesus is God,” and another copy says “Jesus is not God.” Or, as we saw earlier, per­haps, the last 12 verses of Mark are not in the original. However, it is still clearly presented in Mark that he believed in the Resur­rection, and so it makes no substantial difference in doctrine.

Second, in over 99% of what are called the variants (differ­ences or variations in reading), we do know what they are sup­posed to say. For example: If I wrote a note that was copied and sent to you which read, “I will bee talking a trip to you’re area in a couplle of weeks and plan to seee you,” would you know what the original said? Of course. But, let’s say someone else copied this with a view to correct the errors and wrote, “I well be taking a trip to your area in a few of weeks and plan to see ewe.” Would you understand what was meant? The original copyist’s errors have been corrected, but new typos are now there with some word substitutions. In both cases, the original meaning is discernable, and comparing the two actually gives a greater confidence as to what the original said. Although Ehrman’s claim sounds scary at first, once we understand how the text is analyzed and translated, his claim has virtually no bearing on whether the New Testament is reliable or not.

*Dr. Bart D. Ehrman is the James A. Gray Distinguished Professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He is the author of 24 books including, Misquoting Jesus and Jesus Interrupted.

**Dr. Craig Evans, New Testament scholar, is the Payzant Distinguished Professor of New Testament at Acadia Divinity College of Acadia University in Wolfville, Nova Scotia, Canada. He is the author and editor of more than 60 books and hundreds of articles and reviews and has given lectures at Cambridge, Ox­ford, Durham, Yale and other universities, colleges, seminaries and museums, such as the Field Museum in Chicago, the Cana­dian Museum of Civilization in Ottawa and the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto. Along with countless interviews on radio networks across Canada and the US, Evans has been seen on Dateline NBC, CBC, CTV, Day of Discovery, and many docu­mentaries aired on BBC, The Discovery Channel, History Chan­nel, History Television and others. He also has served as a con­sultant for the National Geographic Society.

VeinotL.L. (Don) Veinot Jr. is co-founder and President of Midwest Christian Outreach, Inc., a national apologetics ministry and mission to new religious movements based in Wonder Lake, Illinois with offices in Florida, Iowa, Southern Illinois and Col­orado. He, along with his wife of 40 years, Joy, have been involved in discernment ministry as missionaries to New Religious Movements since 1987. He is a frequent guest on various radio and television broadcasts as well as being a staff researcher and writer for the Midwest Outreach, Inc. Journal and is co-author of, A Matter of Basic Principles: Bill Go­thard and the Christian Life, contributing author of Preserving Evangelical Unity: Welcoming Diversity in Non-Essentials, as well as articles in the CRI Journal, PFO Quarterly Journal, Campus Life Magazine and other periodicals. He was ordained to the ministry by West Suburban Commu­nity Church of Lombard, IL, at the Garden of Gethsemane in Jerusalem, Israel in March of 1997. Don is a charter member of ISCA (International Society of Christian Apologetics) and is also the current President of Evangelical Ministries to New Religions (EMNR), a consortium of Coun­ter cult/apologetic and discernment ministries from around the country.

I want to offer appreciation to Ron Henzel, Senior Researcher for Midwest Christian Outreach, Inc., for his research assistance and input.

  1. For a good overview, see “Famous American Trials: The O.J. Simpson Trial: 1995,” simpson.htm
  2. EMNR is Evangelical Ministries to New Religions;
  3. Cf. the discussion by F.F. Bruce in Paul, Apostle of the Heart Set Free, (Grand
    Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1977), 441ff
  4. D.A. Carson and Douglas J. Moo, An Introduction to the New Testament, 2nd ed., (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005), 296-300. For another discussion of the dating of Acts that demonstrates the role of presuppositions (as opposed to actual evidence) in the dating process, cf. Donald Guthrie, New Testament Introduction, rev. ed., (Leicester, U.K. and Downers Grove, IL: Apollos and InterVarsity Press, 1990), 355- 365
  5. As a matter of course, arguments over the dating of New Testament books are intimately linked to arguments over authorship, but since the Gospels are technically anonymous documents, authorship becomes a secondary question. It cannot be logically argued that Luke could not have written Acts because he was dead by the time it was written. Sim­ply positing a date for a Gospel after the death of its traditional author, and then using that date as an argument against traditional authorship, is an exercise in circular reasoning. Dating each Gospel must proceed on the basis of evidence internal and external to the document itself; and if it can be reasonably concluded that it was written within the life­time of the traditional author, then that becomes an argument in favor of traditional authorship.
  6. “The only really significant reason for dating Luke after AD 70 is the argument that Mark must be dated in the mid-60s at the earli­est. But we have seen reason to question the necessity of dating Mark as late as that. And if Mark is dated in the early 60s, then Luke could well have been written in the mid- or late-60s.” Carson and Moo, Ibid., 210. This reasoning is based, of course, on the premise of Markan priority, and Luke’s dependence upon Mark. However, if it is as­sumed Luke did not consult Mark, an even earlier date for Luke could be entertained. Cp. Guthrie, Ibid., 125-131
  7. The argument that Mark 13 contains evidence the author actually experienced the
    destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 has been ably chal­lenged by Carson and Moo, who conclude, “A decision between a date in the 50s and one in the 60s is impossible to make. We must be content with dating Mark sometime in the late 50s or the 60s.” Ibid., 182. Cp. Guthrie, Ibid., 84-89
  8. Gary Habermas and Antony Flew; Did Jesus Rise from the Dead?: The Resurrection Debate, Harper & Row, 1987, 23
  9. Gary Habermas and Antony Flew; Did Jesus Rise from the Dead?: The Resurrection Debate, Harper & Row, 1987, 19-20
  10. Fallacy of special pleading. (a) Accepting an idea or criticism when applied to an opponent’s argument but rejecting it when ap­plied to one’s own argument, or (b) rejecting an idea or criticism when applied to an opponent’s argument but accepting it when ap­plied to one’s own.”Peter A. Angeles, Dictionary of Philosophy, (New York: Barnes & Noble/Harper & Row, 1981), 99; italics and bold part of original text. Cp. Don Lindsay,“List of Fallacious Arguments,”, where “special pleading” is also referred to as “stacking the deck.”
  11. Perhaps one of the most common grounds for accusing the Gospels of contradicting each other has been the differing sequences in which the writers sometimes portray the events they narrate. But, as a former pupil of Rudolph Bultmann, Eta Linneman, has pointed out, this objec­tion has been answered at least as far back as the second century, when Papias (as attested by Eusebius) asserted that Mark did not in­tend to provide a chronologically-ordered account. Cf. Eusebius, Eccle­siastical History 3.39.15 and Linneman, Is There a Synoptic Problem?, Robert B. Yarbrough, trans., (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1992),168
  12. Kenneth S. Kantzer (1917–2002), was an influential theologian and educator in the evangelical Christian tradition. ttp:// wiki/Kenneth_Kantzer
  13. Dr. Craig Evans and Dr. Bart Ehrman Does the Bible Misquote Je­sus?
  14. Dr. Craig Evans and Dr. Bart Ehrman Does the Bible Misquote Je­sus?

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