Wintery Knight

…integrating Christian faith and knowledge in the public square

Assessing Bart Ehrman’s case against the resurrection of Jesus

Let’s start by listing some of Bart’s debates, and then we can take a look at his argument.

Bart Ehrman’s debates

  1. William Lane Craig vs. Bart Ehrman. The full transcript of the debate is here, so you can follow along with the video.
  2. Mike Licona’s first debate with Ehrman (audio, video).
  3. Ehrman’s debate with Peter Williams on the UK-based Unbelievable radio show.
  4. Ehrman’s debate with Dan Wallace
  5. Ehrman’s second debate with Licona can be ordered here for $10. Review is here.

Here’s William Lane Craig’s opening speech against Bart: (in 12 parts)

Part 1 of 12:

Part 2 of 12:

Bart’s argument

Bart Ehrman has a standard case based on 1) manuscript variants and 2) David Hume’s argument against miracles. Basically, he says that because the massive number of manuscripts contains a massive number of minor disagreements (see below), that the Bible cannot be trusted and therefore we can’t know whether Jesus rose bodily from the dead.

In Ehrman’s debate with Peter Williams on the UK-based Unbelievable radio show, and in Ehrman’s debate with Dan Wallace, Ehrman lists the 4 worst problems caused by the invariants:

  1. the woman caught in adultery (John 7:53-8:11) is a late addition not present in the earliest manuscripts
  2. the long ending of Mark (Mark 16:9-20) is a late addition not present in the earliest manuscripts
  3. Jesus was angry and not compassionate when he healed the leper (Mark 1:41)
  4. that Jesus died apart from God, and not by the grace of God (Hebrews 2:9)

I personally dislike that story in 1), because I think a lot of feminized Christians like it because they do not want to have their happiness diminished by moral judgments. They misunderstand this passage to support self-serving moral relativism and postmodern hedonism. Or worse, anti-capital-punishment. Eww.

This Bible verse is a favorite of all the liberal “Christian” women I’ve met. I’ve noticed that they are terrified of moral judgments and they don’t like to have to do anything for God, like study apologetics. I don’t like that. So I say: throw the girly-verse out! If you want a good verse that shows that Jesus liked women, you should be reading the woman at the well story. Or the women witnesses to the empty tomb.

Regarding 2), I like that long ending because it’s more useful from an apologetics standpoint. So I do care about this invariant, and I just don’t use that ending when I debate. For 3), I prefer angry Jesus to compassionate Jesus. And for 4) I really don’t care. It’s Hebrews! It’s not like it’s Mark or 1 Corinthians 15.

Ehrman’s argument against miracles is really just David Hume’s argument against miracles, which even non-Christian scholars, like John Earman, have defeated at the highest level here:

So, one can easily see that Bart Ehrman’s case is silly and amounts to nothing in a formal debate on the resurrection. If you want to understand why he is selling so many books, just like Dan Brown, you need to understand that people want space to invent a Jesus that they like. Bart gives them that space by fueling their skepticism of traditional Christianity.

Responding to Bart Ehrman with the minimal facts

Bart seems to be under the misapprehension that Christians argue for the resurrection by assuming the whole Bible is inspired. But we don’t. We use a minimal facts case where each fact had to pass a battery of standard historical tests for the genre of historical biography.

We come up with a list of minimal facts like this list:

  • the burial narrative
  • the empty tomb
  • the appearances
  • the early belief in a bodily resurrection

We argue that the bodily resurrection is the best explanation of these facts, and we refute all naturalistic explanations of these minimal facts like these:

  • Jesus wasn’t really dead
  • Someone stole the body
  • The appearances were hallucinations

One other thing that may be of interest is British scholar N.T. Wright’s case for the resurrection, based on the changes introduced in the belief and practice of the first Jewish converts to Christianity.

Further study

For further study of Licona and Ehrman, I would recommend the book “The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus”, by Gary Habermas and Mike Licona on the resurrection, which is the best introductory book you can get on how to argue the minimal facts case.

If you like Lee Strobel’s interviewing style, then you can’t go wrong with this book, “The Case for the Real Jesus” and his earlier book “The Case for Christ”. All the Lee Strobel books are excellent, the best books that a beginner can get – the ground floor of apologetics, so to speak.

If you prefer books featuring debates between opposing scholars, check out William Lane Craig against Gerd Ludemann here, (audio of their re-match is here), William Lane Craig against John Dominic Crossan here, (audio of the debate is here), or N. T. Wright against John Dominic Crossan here, (audio of the debate only is here).

Gary Habermas, (has dual doctorates from Oxford and Michigan State) is also a good source.

He debates a Duke University professor here: (one of my favorites)

Two Views on the Resurrection: Dialog with Dr. Joel Marcus, Professor of New Testament and Christian Origins at Duke University Divinity School
PART I (8MB) :|: PART II (8MB) :|: PART III (8MB) [MP3 files]

And he responds to Dan Brown’s fictional novels here:

Cracking the Da Vinci Code
PART I (8MB) :|: PART II (8MB) :|: PART III (5MB) :|: PART IV (5MB) [MP3 files]
Lecture given at the 4th Annual Worldview Apologetics Conference
April 21-22, 2006, Seattle, Washington

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