May 14, 2009

Review of Jesus Interrupted by Bart Ehrman

I rarely read a book without finding something of value in it. Even in viewpoints with which I disagree I can usually find some redeeming points or insights. Jesus, Interrupted, however, was a waste of my time. While being easy on the readability scale, it is filled with half-truths and poor scholarship almost to the point of unreadability.

In this post I will give a few points where I agree with Ehrman (indicating areas where I diverge) and then point out a few other problems with the book.

At the end of this post I will give the links to Ben Witherington III's blog posts concerning this book. He is a brillilant New Testament scholar with more expertise in this area than I. His series is nothing short of brilliant. It is lengthy, but worth the time it takes. You don't even need to have read Ehrman's book to understand and learn from Witherington's posts.

Let me say that there are a few points where I agree with him. While I agree with him it does not mean they are new, insightful, or all that useful.

Points of Agreement with a little explanation:
  1. Every first year seminarian learns New Testament criticism, and it does challenge some. During my first year of seminary I was challenged by the issues presented by New Testament Criticism...until they offered all the views. I was able to evaluate them and found there are very plausible explanations which Ehrman either doesn't discuss or completely disregards without a full explanation.

    Erhman does a great job of only presenting one (his) explanation as the only plausible one and giving just enough information about other views to make them seem ridiculous. It is easy to disregard some of the arguments because Ehrman himself starts with faulty assumptions. New Testament Criticism is a complex field and the scholars (despite Ehrman's "most scholars agree" comment) do not agree with his explanations.

  2. Very few pastors bring this stuff up. I don't want to misrepresent Ehrman or attempt to speak for him, but his writing leaves me with a bad impression. That impression is that Ehrman believes pastors are keeping this information from the people because they just don't want to deal with it, think their people won't be able to handle it either spiritually or intellectually, or they are purposely deceiving people.

    Most of this is practical. Sharing the insights of New Testament Criticism would overwhelm many. It is a difficult subject that requires more than a Sunday morning sermon can provide. Many pastors do not fully understand the ins and outs of NT Criticism.

  3. The Historical-Critical method is a widely used and very reliable method of getting at the meaning of a Biblical passage and understanding. Ehrman is correct that to properly understand the Biblical message and interpret it properly we need to understand the time, place, situation, etc of the original writers and readers.

    Unfortunately, Ehrman only abides by this principle when it is convenient.

    In the section explaining Biblical contradictions...Ehrman fails to take into account Biblical genres (His understanding of Genesis and his explanation of the Psalms are just one example). He fails to understand why John would place the Temple Cleansing at the beginning of his book while other place it later...then says that it cannot be reconciled. If Ehrman understood the purpose of a Gospel genre he wouldn't have so much difficulty.

  4. There are variant views, textual differences, and the writers were usually anonymous (and not necessarily who's name was listed on the document). Again a simple understanding of the process would help. Ehrman just misses it. There are textual variations, the Biblical writers had slightly varying theologies (though, despite Ehrman's inferences, they all held to the same main principles), and there are some anonymous letters (but not forgeries or misrepresentations).

  5. I have as much problem with the fundamentalist view of inerrancy as Ehrman. I believe God spoke through human beings and allowed their personal writing styles, personalities, and idiosyncrasies to show through. The Scriptures were written by real human beings inspired by the Holy Spirit; not automatons. Variations occur, but this does not remove the presence of the Holy Spirit working and keeping the essential message of God's Word for us.
A Couple of Additional Problems:
  1. The underlying assumption that nothing supernatural is occuring in the Scripture.
    Buried within Ehrman's writing is the assumption that nothing supernatural is going on with the Bible. Obviously this is a difference of opinion as he would say that my faulty assumption is that I believe there is something supernatural going on. Once you start with a purely humanistic origin of the Bible and view its development as being separate from all Divine intervention...then I can see how some things seem illogical. However, I also think that God's working to bring us the Bible plays a big role in the discussion.

  2. Lack of scholarly insight and study. Bibliography for additional study? None! Footnotes to reference bold claims and "widespread acceptance" of his ideas? None! (Unless you count footnote references to his own work!) Interaction with alternative views as anything other than straw men? None! Plus there is nothing new about the ideas that are presented...some of which have been proven wrong and abandoned by liberal scholarship anyway.
Ehrman's writing is easy to read making it accessible to a popular audience. By this I don't mean stupid, but rather people who are unable or unwilling to wade through the theological tomes available on NT Criticism. Because of this Ehrman is able to present a very biased and unscholarly work and pass it off as everyday stuff that pastors and scholars have been hiding from us for years!

Ben Witherington III does a great job of presenting the individual insights and argument against Ehrman's work. The posts are VERY lengthy, but well worth the read. Check them out here, here, here, here, and here.

Check out Bart Ehrman and Stephen Colbert here. You can also see the overall introduction post for this review here.

CNN has an article about Ehrman.

6 comments:

  1. Thanks for the insight and review so now I don't have to waste my time reading this. I went through something similar as I read The Shack. The whole world went nuts over that book and so much was just unbiblical and even heretical I couldn't believe people would give this book such credence ..."This book changed my life". Oh come on. Now if it made them think about God and want to be closer to God, that's a good thing, but we must always be careful what we read and what we take as true. Cheers.

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  2. This is a comment on croneandbearit's comment, not on your post. My apologies.

    I'm so glad to see someone else who had issues with The Shack. I didn't even read it and probably never will. My small group changed from a Bible study to a Shack study last summer. They kept pushing us to read it so what they were saying would make sense to the rest of us. Everyone else gave in except the hubster and I. I'm turned off to it now. I was showing up for a BIBLE study, not a book review.

    I also have a problem with people who spend more time reading books to help them understand the Bible than actually just reading the Bible.

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  3. Thanks for commenting. I have not read The Shack. I plan to because there is such a wide divide between those who hate it and those who love it.

    Cyndi, I would make one caution. I think people need to read both the Bible and books about the Bible. Translation and interpretation issues, and deeper knowledge of the language and culture of the people and the writers is absolutely necessary to understanding what the Bible really means. There have been so many misunderstanding and misinterpretations (some actually making the Bible say the opposite of what it says) because they didn't do the leg work for proper interpretation. They simply rested on their ability to read the Bible. That is actually some of the problem that comes from this book. His method is just wrong.

    Eric

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  4. So controversial, it made cnn.com:
    http://www.themergeblog.com/2009/05/review-of-jesus-interrupted-by-bart.html

    There's so many opinions out there about how to interpret the Bible, I won't/don't trust them unless they reference other parts of the Bible to uphold their beliefs. I don't mind hearing other's opinions, I find them very interesting and sometimes they even change my point of view. However, I just don't feel like paying money to read someone's opinion unless I trust where they're coming from.

    I guess I just have a lot of mistrust for those who write books about their experience or opinion of God and his word. If I don't understand something in the Bible, I look to other parts of the Bible and I pray about it. I may ask the pastors what they think, but I don't believe it until I feel it's confirmed by God. (Not sure if that makes sense.)

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  5. Oops, copied the wrong link:
    http://www.cnn.com/2009/LIVING/05/15/bible.critic/index.html

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  6. Among top-notch scholars...the opinions are not as varied as many would have you believe. The problem is that the people who have committed their lives to studying and understanding the original manuscripts and culture of the Bible disagree with joe-schmo church person who hasn't studied anything in depth. But it is the person who hasn't studied that gets all recognition because of a mistrust of scholars.

    Ehrman does not offer a scholarly basis for his work. Ben Witherington is a fabulous scholar, and, while lengthy, his posts offer great insight.

    There will always be some differences but if I have to choose between someone who has only studied the Bible and someone who has studied both the Bible and the culture and language...I think the latter is more qualified to tell us what it really means.

    That doesn't mean that God doesn't speak to us through it if we don't have all that stuff, but what He says must be confirmed by in-depth study. If it is worth God saying...He will often expect us to work a little to get it. For example see the Parables...Jesus didn't give the interpretation He wanted people to search it out and study it.

    This is a good discussion. Thanks, Cyndi!

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