Saturday, 8 February 2014

Why Bart Ehrman is good for Christianity

Many conservative Christians would disagree strongly with the opening title as they see Bart Ehrman as    representative of 'godless, anti-Bible higher criticism', or some other equally hysterical term. That's a shame because apart from being one of the best NT textual critics alive today, Ehrman when read intelligently acts as a catalyst to spur Christians into a more intelligent, less fundamentalist way of reading the Bible.
Greg Monette's recent blog post shows exactly how an intelligent reading of Ehrman helped him move from fundamentalist Christianity to the sort of faith that did not disintegrate on encountering a single discrepancy:
Ehrman is also correct that the New Testament contains “discrepancies” and not simply “apparent” discrepancies. Evangelicals (and I am one) often make sure they use the word “apparent” before discrepancy because what may seem like a discrepancy now, we may discover isn’t one at all. However, there are definitely more than a few discrepancies in the Gospels that will never be straightened out. For instance, who asked Jesus if the sons of Zebedee (James and John) could sit at his righthand when he entered his kingdom? Was it James and John themselves (Matthew 20:20-28) or their mother (Mark 10:35-45)? The two Gospels do not agree with one another. Was it the centurion himself who asked Jesus to heal his male servant in person as we read in Matthew’s Gospel (8:5-13)? Or did the centurion send some Jewish elders to ask Jesus as we read in Luke’s Gospel (7:1-10)? The discrepancy is clear. Ehrman is correct to point out many of the real discrepancies that exist in the Gospels. However, where Ehrman errs is where he says nothing about the possibility that real events occurred like those described in both Gospels and yet one or both of the Gospel's authors made a mistake in a few of the details, or purposely changed some of the details for reasons they thought acceptable. Yes, it may be an important detail here or there, but it doesn’t necessarily discredit the entirety of each story. Only super conservative Christians should be easy prey for scholars like Ehrman. I used to be one of these people. I’m not anymore. I have learned that there are discrepancies in the Gospels and yet they don’t discredit the overall historical reliability of the stories in question. (Emphasis mine)
Ehrman is only a problem if your view of inspiration is a rigid variant of verbal plenary inspiration which argues that God dictated every word to the writers. In this case, any discrepancy automatically reflects back on God, and produces the sort of tension which can - and does - lead to a collapse of faith. However, as Monette says:
If anyone tells you that the Bible must be 100% reliable in order for Jesus to have been raised from the dead...have a good chuckle. That’s ridiculous. That’s like saying that if a modern day journalist is slightly incorrect in their reporting of something that took place that it mustn't have actually happened. Please. We can do better than this brittle fundamentalism.