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The Not Very Religious, Religious Scholar

March 30, 2012

Before reading this post, it is of absolute importance to read what the Apostle Paul wrote concerning the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Keep in mind that the vast majority of contemporary scholarship agree that Paul’s 1st letter to the Corinthians is one of the earliest and best attested historical writings we have concerning Jesus and his resurrection.

1 Corinthians 15:1-7,13: “Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you – unless you believed in vain.  For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.  Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep.  But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised.  And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.”

A few month ago I was reading through Scientific Magazine and notice a certain advertisement.  The title of the advertisement read:

How Has Christianity Changed Over 2,000 Years?

Follow the Story of Lost Christianities, An Intriguing, 24-Lecture Series In Audio or DVD

This “Lost Christianities” lecture series is lead by New Testament scholar Bart D. Ehrman who, as the article states, is the James A.Gray Professor and Chair of the Department of Religious Studies at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.  Dr. Ehrman has received his Masters of Divinity and Ph.D. From Princeton Theological Seminary and has written or edited more than 15 books on various religious topics.

At first glance it seems  that Bart Ehrman is a smart religious fellow!  He must be.  He’s the department chair of religious studies at The University of North Carolina Chapel Hill.  He’s written 15 books.  The article even says that he has a doctorate degree from Princeton Seminary.  With a resume like his we should all assume that Dr. Ehrman is an intelligent religious scholar correct? Not so fast….

Dr. Ehrman is no doubt an intelligent man and a reputable scholar.  But what he believes about the New Testament and God is quite a bit different than most so called “religious” persons.  You see, one thing the article failed to mention about Dr. Ehrman is that he is a proclaimed agnostic.  An agnostic is much different than a Christian or any religious person that believes in God.  An agnostic is a person with the theological view that belief in God is not knowable.  Rather than making a decision as to the existence or non existence of God they simply say, ‘I am not convinced therefore I do not know if God exists’.

Unfortunately, Dr. Ehrman’s non-belief  perspective of God breaths massive implications into his individual field of study – he views miracles, the Bible, Jesus, etc…  For example he has said concerning the resurrection appearances of Jesus:

“My best guess is that what happened is what commonly happens today when someone has a loved one die — they sometimes think they see them in a vision,” Ehrman says. “I think some of the disciples had visions.”

Dr. Ehrman comes to his conclusions not solely based off of scriptural evidence.  If he did, then no biblical historian would accept the writings concerning the post-mortem appearances of Jesus as true.  In fact as a side note, there have been many scholars with equal or greater credentials than Ehrman who have been able to trust the resurrection appearances.  While this is not a popularity contest it does at least allow for the possibility that he might be taking his doubts too far in the face of good evidence.  Still what would cause Dr. Ehrman’s conclusions to differ so much from a historian that firmly believes in the resurrection appearances of Jesus?  The reason is because Dr. Ehrman’s conclusions are not based off of the evidence alone but also off of the presuppositions he holds regarding the existence of God.  It is his agnosticism perspective that guides his research.  That since he does not hold a belief that God exists, than it follows logically that miracles can not occur.  Dr. Ehrman writes,

“Because historians can only establish what probably happened, and a miracle of this nature is highly improbable, the historian cannot say it probably occurred.”1

Therefore in all of Dr. Ehrman studies and research however thorough he may be, any reference to a miracle occurring must be thrown out as not viable and not possible.  This radically changes the way he views many of the events in the Bible thus how he teaches it.  No God, no miracles, no belief in the Bible, no resurrection of Jesus from the dead.

About the Bible’s authenticity the Apostle Paul writes in 2 Timothy that, “All scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.”2

Scholar Dr. Ehrman, however, shares a different opinion:

“What if God didn’t say it?  What if the book you take as giving you God’s words instead contains human words?  What if the Bible doesn’t give a fool proof answer to questions of the modern age – Western-style democracy, and the like?  What if we have to figure out how to live and what to believe on our own, without setting up the Bible as a false idol – or an oracle that gives us a direct line of communication with the Almighty?” 3

What if we have to figure out how to live and what to believe on our own?  What if we figure out that the Bible is a false idol?  These comments do not sound like those coming from the mouth of a very “religious” person.  Not at all.  In fact his words sound more like those from the mouth of a anti-religious person.  This is supposed to be one of our esteemed educational leaders.  A figure you can trust and turn too with questions regarding your studies of the faith.  Indeed I wonder how many eyes he has turned blind to faith in Christ because of his lack of belief?  Is that the role a religious educator should play?  To bring doubt into the minds of those studying because he does not believe?  Or should an educational leader serve the role of an objective source who provides both sides of the story so that the students can make up their own minds?  I do not say this as an attack on Dr. Ehrman, not at all.  However I call in to question the institution of Christian education itself.  Let me explain further by introducing you to another influential writer, academic, and pastor.

Another example of a so called “religious” scholar is Dr. John Shelby Spong – partner of the famous “Jesus Seminar”.  Dr. Spong, whose books have sold more than a million copies, was bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Newark for 24 years before his retirement in 2001.  He is a visiting lecturer at Harvard and at universities and churches worldwide.  His bestselling books include Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism, A New Christianity for a New World, Why Christianity Must Change or Die, and Here I Stand

Here is what Dr. Spong had to say regarding the resurrection of Jesus in a recent debate he had with prominent theologian and philosopher Dr. William Craig:

“The idea that it was a body that walked out of the tomb is not even an appealing idea to me.  I don’t need for it to be physical.  I find it rather amazing that religious people who talk about the life of the spirit discover that the spiritual things have no meaning unless they can be attached to physical symbols.  And I’d like to suggest that spiritual is a word that is a lot bigger than that and one we ought not diminish by sort of hacking it because its not attached to some physical resuscitation.

He goes on to say, “The idea that God would reverse the life process and do billions of individual miracles to bring back a body that has been dead for three days strikes me as to make God a kind of miracle worker.  But I am so convinced of the reality of the experience that I keep looking for a way that I can open that experience into the common mind of people and they can walk into it.”

Dr. Spong said that the idea that it was a body that walked out of the tomb is not appealing to him.  If the resurrection of Jesus is unappealing to Dr. Spong, than why is he trying so hard to convince others to share in his dissatisfaction?  Should we base our beliefs of truth on Dr. Spong’s personal feelings?  By no means!  If we did, than we would all be guilty of viewing truth in a subjective manner and through the lens perspective of what others feel is truth – rather than following the evidence and discovering it for ourselves.

Dr. Spong also claims that by believing what the Apostle Paul wrote 2000 years ago we are diminishing the event of the resurrection.  And that God must be some sort of miracle worker in order to bring Jesus back from the dead.  I say the New Testament makes it very clear that God is The Miracle Worker!  It says He created the entire Universe and everything in it.  He breaths life into us.  He healed the lame, the sick, and the blind.  He is also responsible for raising Jesus from the dead.  But why would Dr. Spong be so eager to reject the idea of the resurrection?  I believe that Dr. Spong, like Dr. Ehrman, must hold some hidden assumptions or presuppositions for rejecting the truth of the New Testament.  What does the Bible say about unbelief in the cross of Christ?  “The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” 4

Lastly Dr. Spong claims the he is so convinced of the reality of the experience that he keeps looking for a way that he can  open that experience into the common mind of people and they can walk into it.  What does that even mean?  He doesn’t even believe in the resurrection!  So what experience is he referring to that he want to opens peoples minds too?  It is to my understanding of Dr. Spong’s writings that his mission is to convince others of a very different Gospel than that which was handed to us by the earliest disciples.  One example is that he claims that instead of Jesus’s body being raised into heaven, it was most likely thrown to dogs and eaten – leaving no body behind.  Dr. Spong adds this and many other non-gospel variants to the story of Jesus.  All because he does not find the truth of a resurrected Jesus Christ “appealing”.

Now I want to close by reminding the reader of what the Apostle Paul said, “if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.”  So how come we have religious teachers and preachers teaching a non-resurrected Christ?  What is their purpose?  What is their motive?  If Jesus was not raised from the dead like Dr. Ehrman and Dr. Spong wantus to believe, than why did eleven of the twelve disciples endure torture and shameful death for their belief in a resurrected Christ?  Without a risen Christ, how would one explain the drastic rise and spread of Christianity in a first century Jewish state?  N. T. Wright, an eminent British scholar, concludes, “That  as a historian, I cannot explain the rise of early Christianity unless Jesus rose again, leaving an empty tomb behind him.”5  But again if Jesus did not rise from the tomb, why do people 2000 years later accept Christ as a real experience and attend seminary school to become pastors and teachers of the Christian faith?  Why do we bother waking up every Sunday morning to attend church services?  Why pray and place our hope in a dead Jesus?

The Bible says, “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.  Therefore, let us [be aware of the detractors and] hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised this is faithful.” 6 So protect your heart and mind.  Read the Bible for yourself.  Learn to discern truth and believe!  Peace and God bless.

{1}Bart Ehrman, “Historical Jesus,” Part II, p. 50

{2} 2 Timothy 3:16-17

{3} Bart Ehrman, “Misquoting Jesus”, p. 14

{4}1 Corinthians 1:18

{5}N. T. Wright, “The New Unimproved Jesus,” Christianity Today (September 13, 1993), p. 26

{6} Romans 10:9, Hebrews 10:23


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One Comment
  1. Big Daddy Goltz permalink

    Well written.

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