I am currently a student in college and am studying religion along with my other courses. I read an excerpt from a book called The New Testament: A Historical Introduction by Bart Ehrman for my religion class. Many other readings were also assigned and they all explained that the gospels were not written by eyewitnesses, were not written by the names which were prescribed onto them after the fact and were in fact written anonymously. So I read up on the opposite view outside of school and found that many facts are twisted by what some people call the “fundamentalist Christians. ” I mean some books have chapters in them that go off into a tangent about salvation, or the falsity of evolution, or the end times before ever getting around to arguing things that even I know are false about the NT, such as, “the letters of Paul were all written by the same historical Paul. ” So I guess my question is not so much a question but a request: can I be a Christian while being aware of all these historical facts that seem to go against the common perception of a believing Christian?
The textbook The New Testament: A Historical Introduction written by Bart Ehrman is historically inaccurate and lacking in objective scholarship. Either the author intentionally distorted the facts or he lacks the objectivity to write such a book. Academic degrees imply an ability to conduct scholastic investigations, but they do not guarantee that an objective investigation will occur. When the author claims that the gospel writers of the New Testament were not eyewitnesses of Jesus Christ, he makes a statement that he cannot prove. Was he there as an eyewitness? In his book “Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Testament,” Bart Ehrman conjectures that no written records existed about Jesus until thirty-five to sixty-five years after His death . He asserts that no early documents existed and the gospels were written based on the writer’s best recall of the facts. He assumes that the gospel records were the earliest documentation of Jesus’ life and ministry. He ignores the viewpoint of many biblical scholars who believe that a pre-existing, hypothetical document called Q existed which documented the live and ministry of Jesus. It appears that he does not mention the hypothetical document because it does not fit into the message that he wants to create. It is easy to make a claim, but to prove the claim is the problem. In short, he ignores the obvious leading the uninformed to doubt the integrity of the scriptures.
One of Mr. Ehrman’s primary themes is that no eyewitnesses wrote the gospels. Yet, numerous historians of antiquity, including the early church fathers, believed and claimed that twelve men, known as the disciples, were eyewitnesses of Jesus Christ. Their testimony about Jesus Christ is recorded in what the early church fathers called the memoirs of the apostles. Consider the Muratorian Fragment of A.D. 170. The Muratorian Fragment, also known as the Muratorian Canon, is the earliest list of all of the New Testament books (A.D. 170). The parchment is damaged in multiple places. That is why it is called a fragment. The beginning of the fragment is torn and consequently references to some books are missing. The author of the document gave a running account of the books of the New Testament. In the document all of the New Testament books are listed, except for Matthew, Mark, Hebrews, James, 1-2 Peter and 3 John. These books are apparently missing due to the tears. Since the author of the Muratorian refers to the “third book of the gospel” as Luke, this implies that there were four gospels. This leaves only Hebrews, James, 1-2 Peter and 3 John as being missing from the list. Were they part of the torn pieces too?
. . . at these, however, he was present, and so he set them down. The third book of the Gospel: according to Luke . . . The fourth of the Gospels is that of John, one of the disciples . . . The acts of all the apostles were written in one book. Addressing the most excellent Theophilus, Luke includes one by one the things which were done in his own presence, as he shows plainly by omitting the passion of Peter and also Paul’s departure when he was setting from the city for Spain. As for the epistles of Paul . . . First of all, to the Corinthians, . . . then to the Galatians . . . then to the Romans . . . first to the Corinthians, second to the Ephesians, third to the Philippians, fourth to the Colossians, fifth to the Galatians, sixth to the Thessalonians, seventh to the Romans. But although [the message] is repeated to the Corinthians and Thessalonians by way of reproof . . . John also in the Apocalypse, yet speaks to all. Moreover, [Paul writes] one [letter] to Philemon, one to Titus, and two to Timothy . . . But the epistle of Jude and the superscribed with the name of John are accepted.
Notice that the fragment states that the gospel of John was “that of John, one of the disciples.” That clearly implies that the gospel of John was authored by the apostle John and not another person. The document also states that Paul wrote all of his epistles. The document credits each book to those men who have been believed to have authored the books since the first century. About thirty years later the Barbococcio document (A.D. 206) listed all of the books, except for Revelation. All of the books of the New Testament were recognized as being scripture, the inspired Word of God, shortly after the death of the last apostle – the apostle John.
Bart Ehrman ignores the weight of the statements of the early church fathers that the disciples were the authors of the various books. The early historians indicate that a few books were in question, most notably the book of Hebrews. But the authors of almost every New Testament book were known by the early church fathers.
It is also important to note Peter’s statement in 2 Peter 3:15-16 where the Apostle Peter states that the Apostle Paul wrote scripture.
. . . and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation; just as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you, as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction. 2 Peter 3:15-16 (NASB)
That implies that the Apostle Paul did write scripture, and the early church fathers attest that the epistles in the New Testament were written by him. Note that Peter refers to “all” his letters.” The burden of proof is on those who did not live during that era to prove that the early church fathers were mistaken. That is highly improbable. It is easy for individuals living 2,000 years after the fact to suppose that they know more than the original writers. Bart Ehrman is quick to criticize the early authors for, as he supposes, they depended upon their memories some thirty-five to sixty-five years after the events occurred. But he ignores the obvious that it is now 2,000 years later and he was not there as an eyewitness either. It is easy to attempt to discredit Christian writers with supposedly “informed” statements. The truth is Bart Ehrman is less informed than the New Testament authors. The better evidence is found in the early writings of the early church fathers. Bart Ehrman also ignores the fact that God the Holy Spirit moved and directed the writers in their writings. The authors wrote what God wanted written. He has either forgotten the process of inspiration or he does not believe in it. He has made the creation of the New Testament solely human product.
Numerous books in the New Testament have Paul’s trademark signature at the introduction “Paul, called as an apostle . . .” In one of those books, 1 Timothy, refers to a statement as being scripture. Here is the passage,
For the Scripture says, “YOU SHALL NOT MUZZLE THE OX WHILE HE IS THRESHING,” and “The laborer is worthy of his wages.” 1 Timothy 5:18 (NASB)
It is important to note that the statement, “The laborer is worthy of his wages.” can only be found in Luke 10:7. That means Luke is scripture.
A significant book that provides thousands of detailed facts about the development of the Bible is A General Introduction To the Bible by Norman Geisler and William Nix. This book contains a wealth of information with supporting footnotes. Another book that directly demonstrates the errors of Bart Ehrman’s claims is Dethroning Jesus by Darrell L. Bock and Daniel B. Wallace. Both of these books are highly recommended reading for anyone seeking a strong response to Bart Ehrman’s claims.
It has become popular today to claim that Jesus never claimed to be God. But that is not supported by the statements in scripture, unless one wants to ignore those statements and make speculative statements. For example, John 5:18 records that the Jesus understood that Jesus claimed to be God,
For this reason therefore the Jews were seeking all the more to kill Him, because He not only was breaking the Sabbath, but also was calling God His own Father, making Himself equal with God. John 5:18 (NASB)
John 10:33 also reveals that Jesus claimed to be God. That is what the Jewish leaders in Jesus’ day understood Him to be claiming. The religious leaders understood what Jesus was claiming better than we who are living 2,000 years later. The apostles also believed that Jesus was God. Listen to the disciple who had doubts about Jesus, initially. He is known as doubting Thomas,
Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!” John 20:28 (NASB)
At the end of the book of 1 John, the Apostle John clearly stated that he believed Jesus was God,
And we know that the Son of God has come, and has given us understanding so that we may know Him who is true; and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life. 1 John 5:20 (NASB)
The reader is also encouraged to listen to the audio message The Trinity Mystery, part 2.
The textbook that the professor asked you to read is heretical. It is historically inaccurate and clearly biased. It is clear that the author, if he claims to be a Christian, is a social Christian lacking a true faith. The Apostle Paul states in 1 Corinthians 15:1-2 that it is possible to believe in Jesus Christ and yet not have a faith that saves. This is part of Satan’s schemes. He caused Eve to doubt God, and He is actively doing the same today. It is clear from Bart Ehrman’s writings that he does not believe Jesus is God. He considers Jesus to be just a man.
It has become commonplace for critics to accuse Christians of bias, and, therefore, our claims and statements cannot be trusted. Such an accusation is not only highly biased but it also ignores the obvious. Consider Sir William M. Ramsey, who once an atheist. In the western cultures, atheists are considered objective. However, atheists now reject Sir William M. Ramsey who decided to follow the travels of the apostle Paul in an attempt to prove that the Bible is riddled with errors. Now critics reject him because after completing his research he concluded that the Bible was accurate and he became a Christian. So the “objective” man became a “biased” man because he believed that Jesus Christ was God. The truth is that anyone who honestly investigates the claims of the Bible and eventually believes the Bible will be labeled as “biased” because they do not agree with the non-believers. Critics have failed to realize that even those who investigate the facts and reject the Bible are also “biased.” The truth is individuals can to different conclusions after purusing an objective investigation. The term ‘bias” implies that one ignores the normal investigative process. So Christians must be bold and strong in their convictions. Satan is having great success in blinding men and women regarding Jesus Christ.
You asked, “Can I be a Christian while being aware of all these historical facts that seem to go against the common perception of a believing Christian?” The answer is you do not have to accept the distortions that Bart Ehrman is preaching. Bart Ehrman is highly biased in his presentation. He is highly biased against the truth. I would encourage you to read Dethroning Jesus by Darrell L. Bock and Daniel B. Wallace and A General Introduction To the Bible by Norman Geisler and Nix. If you are wondering if you are a true Christian, we would suggest that you study the section “Marks of a Christian” and and ask God to reveal Himself to you.
Dethroning Jesus by Darrell L. Bock and Daniel B. Wallace
A General Introduction To the Bible by Norman Geisler and Nix
1. Bart Ehrman. Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Testament. Oxford Press, 1999, p. 48
2. F. F. Bruce. The Canon of Scripture. InterVaristy Press. 1988. pp. 159-161.
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