Jesus Before the Gospels Review Part 8

If you are a Christian, Jesus should the primary leader of your life.  But what if Jesus isn’t who the Gospels claim He is?  Author Bart Ehrman has written a few books set out to discredit Christianity, the bible, and the foundation of our beliefs.  Guest blogger, Tom Tozer, has taken on the claims of Ehrman’s latest book. Let’s get plugged into leadership and see what Tozer has to say! Part 8 for Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Part 5 Part 6 Part 7

Chapter 8: In Conclusion: A Paean to Memory

In Chapter 8, Ehrman attempts to strike a noble pose as “defender of the value of the Christian scriptures,” not for their value in conveying factual information or historical truth, but because they have been influential in human civilization and are, essentially, almost as good as a nice painting. Having, in his mind, conquered the Gospels, he now poses over them, defending their defeated husks against those who would simply discard them on the ash heap of history.

It’s comical. Ehrman hasn’t come anywhere close to achieving what he imagines. The chapter begins with assertions that are essential to his thesis (and his pose), but for which he offered no support in the seven preceding chapters. For instance, Ehrman asserts: “The Gospels were written decades after Jesus’ death by people who were not eyewitnesses and probably never laid eyes on an eyewitness.” Not demonstrated. They were written decades after Jesus’ death. Sure, that’s likely. But the author of John may have been an eyewitness and maybe Matthew, too. If Mark is Peter’s scribe, then certainly he laid eyes on an eyewitness, as Luke also says he did. Ehrman just does not demonstrate that the Church’s traditional attribution of authorship is wrong.

Ehrman also complains that the Gospels “are filled with discrepancies and contradictions. They represent different perspectives on what Jesus said and did.” Well, yes. As witness testimony often is. Indeed, the useful parts of Ehrman’s book show exactly how eyewitness testimony can be tainted by “filler” and give rise to discrepancies for other reasons. But this is unremarkable. Every street beat cop knows this. This would only be a problem for someone who had, say, spent his youth thinking that the Gospels were literal transcriptions of events, like a video or a court reporter’s transcript.

Ehrman concludes with the utterly trivial declaration that “we have to apply rigorous historical criteria to these sources to reconstruct historical realities from later distorted memories.” He really didn’t need to go this far to get here. Of course we should apply rigorous analysis to the Gospels in viewing them as historical documents. And even if they are eyewitness accounts, we would be justified in thinking that some parts of the memories involved may have been distorted by the experiences, life, and perspective of the witness. But this is not what Ehrman is suggesting in the book or in this chapter. By “distorted memories” Ehrman means something he has not shown, namely that the Gospels were written by non-witnesses based on utterly unreliable telephone-game-relayed stories, by and in communities that then further massaged the stories to assuage their own difficulties. He hasn’t shown this.

This is probably the tenth time I’ve said this. If the Gospels are sourced in eyewitness accounts, stories that come directly from eyewitnesses – something which Ehrman has not in the least shown not to be the case – then very little of what he says in this book is of any relevance to his topic.

About the Author :
Tom Tozer is a lawyer in the Chicago suburbs and one of A.W. Tozer’s many grandchildren.  He is married with three daughters, and has taught confirmation classes for almost 20 years.  He has Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees from University of Chicago as well as a J.D. from Indiana University, Bloomington.  He recently converted to the Catholic faith.

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