So you believe … ? 6.30am Friday

Today … Erhman and his summation.

>>> “gamekeeper turned poacher” in case you get confused (as I do).

“I do want to stress that this has been the question we have been debating. We have not had as our topic the question of whether the New Testament is the Word of God, whether it is theologically truthful, whether it is a reliable guide to how a person should live, love, and behave, or anything else. Our topic has been whether the events it describes — specifically in the Gospels — happened in the way that it indicates, or not.”

Always useful to tell us (without telling us) that Licona has not stuck to topic.

“I would like to point out an interesting phenomenon, which I think is probably an empirical fact, that the only people who think the Gospels are absolutely accurate in every detail are Christian fundamentalists who are committed for theological reasons to thinking that the Bible cannot have any mistakes of any kind whatsoever because the authors were inspired to write exactly what happened in every detail. Mike is clearly not in that fundamentalist camp.”

But … ?

“But I also want to point out a related phenomenon which I think is also an empirical fact, that the only people who want to argue that the Gospels are completely reliable in each and every thing that they strive to affirm — this is more or less Mike’s view — are also committed Christians who have theological beliefs about the inspiration of the Bible that would be violated were they to take some other view of the accuracy of their accounts …  If it’s a historical view, why do historians who do not have a stake in the matter not share it?”

And …?

“The problem is that so many modern readers — Christians who revere the Bible — expect them to be accurate in ways that modern writers are. If we approach these Gospel accounts with modern eyes, we seem to expect them to produce modern results … Not just basically accurate, but really accurate. I completely agree with Mike that this is a wildly unrealistic expectation with respect to Scripture. We cannot impose modern standards on ancient writers.”

But … ?

“But does that mean that we can then conclude that these books are accurate? That seems to be Mike’s position — that if the Gospels are as accurate as Plutarch or Suetonius, then they can be seen as accurate. I think a lot of readers will think that this is somewhat skirting the real issue and changing the terms of our debate … They simply want to know: Did this event happen? And did it happen in the way the Gospels say it did? They do not want to know if Matthew’s account of Jesus is about as good as Plutarch’s account of Romulus. Most people don’t know that Plutarch wrote a Life of Romulus. Why would they care of Matthew’s Gospel is as good as a book they’ve never heard of? They want to know whether Matthew’s account accurately describes what happened in Jesus’s life.”

In other words … ?

“In short, to say that Matthew was doing that because everyone was doing it doesn’t really help us out very much, if what we want to know is whether we can trust that what Matthew tells us happened actually happened, and happened in the way that he says it happened. Just because everyone else changed and made up stories, does that mean Matthew is accurate when he does so?”

I want to add that I was taught to read the bible with “modern eyes”. I was then taught to study the bible with context and texture and chronology to get beyond my “modern eyes”.

I have heard the bible described as the “family album”, the “family tree”, a scrap book of distant relatives, a journey, lots of journeys, a book for all seasons, irrelevant sometimes and totally relevant other times.

What I was never taught (and never asked to teach) was what Erhman describes here.  So I have a question.  Why is “that description” never offered by the mainstream church alongside the rest?

Maybe we will find out tomorrow.


(tomorrow is the second of the “final submissions”)

6 thoughts on “So you believe … ? 6.30am Friday

  1. Hilarious isn’t it?

    Basically what poor Mike is actually saying is this:

    ”I am a giant nob and really have no clue what I am talking about and I hope Norman Geisler gets crabs. Can I go home now, please?”


  2. “What I was never taught (and never asked to teach) was what Erhman describes here.  So I have a question.  Why is “that description” never offered by the mainstream church alongside the rest?”

    Probably because of Protestantism. When Luther and the Reformers separated from the authority of the Pope, they made the Bible the final authority (Sola Scriptura), which led to the idea of inerrancy. I don’t think the Catholics (or Eastern Orthodox) ever taught that. It’s also because of people’s ignorance of church history. This was pretty plain in the first four centuries of the church.

    It’s been an interesting debate, Paul. I agree with both that the standard of the Bible’s historical accuracy is misunderstood. We cannot view it from a 21st century standard. And besides, it was never written that way. These are testimonies (testimonies are rarely verbatim) and doctrines that came from their encounter with Jesus Christ. But, again, it doesn’t follow that the event did not happen at all.

    I don’t see the Bible’s greatest value in the historical accuracy anyway. I see it as “inspired” anthropologically and theologically, giving us deep insights into human nature and in our relationship with God and with others. The problem with these kinds of “historical” arguments is that you don’t come to faith this way. It doesn’t really prove anything in the end. Faith is never based on proof. It’s based on “evidence unseen” (Heb.11:1). It’s revelation of truth in relationship. It’s about the heart. This is why the miracles of Jesus didn’t convince some people who saw them with their own eyes, because their hearts weren’t open to Him. The same is true today.


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