Bart Ehrman’s 9-minute Rebuttal to Any Historical Argument for the Resurrection

by Luke Muehlhauser on June 26, 2010 in Historical Jesus,Video

This is handy because in just 9 minutes Ehrman summarized many of the major problems facing any historical argument that seeks to show Jesus rose from the dead:

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{ 34 comments… read them below or add one }

JMauldin June 26, 2010 at 6:41 pm

Apparently the sixth Pillar of Islam is the loss of any sense of irony.

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MKR June 26, 2010 at 6:43 pm

If you read the materials by the poster on the YouTube page of the video, you will find that he is posting this as part of an effort to make a case for the superior authenticity of the Koran over the New Testament. “The Ulama (Scholars) are in agreement that the entire text of the Quran is ‘Mutawatir’, i.e., its authenticity is proven by universally accepted testimony Ijma (Consesnsus).”

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JMauldin June 26, 2010 at 7:22 pm

Dr. Ehrman has been rather amusingly adopted by quite a few Muslim posters on youtube. It’s like using the Popular Mechanics article to prove the inside job 9/11 conspiracy theorists wrong and then concluding aliens did it.

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Steven Carr June 26, 2010 at 10:36 pm

So how do Biblical scholars use the Gospels to conclude that Judas, Thomas, Joseph of Arimathea, Nicodemus, Lazarus, Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Salome, Bartimaeus, Jairus, Simon of Cyrene etc etc existed?

Do they check the Gospels against other records where those people are recorded by Christians as having existed?

Or do they realise that they would be out of a job if they admitted that there is no evidence for these people, outside unsourced, unprovenanced, anonymous works which plagiarise each other?

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Nathan June 26, 2010 at 10:47 pm

As frustrating as it is, I fear many of these inconsistencies wouldn’t be convincing to believers.

For instance, they defend the numerical inconsistencies by saying that no single gospel account needs to be comprehensive – e.g. just because one of the gospels doesn’t mention a second or third woman at the tomb doesn’t mean they specifically exclude the possibility.

I know…it feels like a cop-out to me, too. But, for a believer, this explanation is quite plausible. Is there any response to this other than “I don’t see why they would have left that out”…basically, an argument from personal incredulity?

I’d almost hate to bring up these numerical inconsistencies as “discrepancies” since the plausible explanation above makes it seem like we’re mining the text for anomalies rather than pointing out legitimately irreconcilable claims.

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Steven Carr June 26, 2010 at 11:01 pm

The stories can only be traced back as far as ‘Mark’.

Some are so embarrassing to later Christians that they must have originated with Mark as they do not show the results of years of spin that the later Gospels show, let alone the results of decades of spin.

As for leaving things out, and stories of one woman being totally consistent with stories of more than one woman…

I guess *one* ship was attacked by *one* plane at Pearl Harbour and the US decided to attack Japan based on one ship being attacked by one plane…..

And one Manning brother has won a Superbowl.

The United States has been involved in one World War.

The United States put one man on the Moon.

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Steven Carr June 26, 2010 at 11:03 pm

I didn’t complete the last entry.

Of course Ehrman claims that the Gospels were telling stories that Christians had been telling for many years.

But gives not one shred of evidence for this faith position.

The stories can only be traced back as far as ‘Mark’.

Some are so embarrassing to later Christians that they must have originated with Mark as they do not show the results of years of spin that the later Gospels show, let alone the results of decades of spin.

So how do Biblical historians do history the way Ehrman claims historians should do history?

The answer is – they don’t.

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Nathan June 26, 2010 at 11:58 pm

I agree that the exact phrasing could imply different things.

For instance, I don’t think the statement “The Japanese sunk the USS California at Pearl Harbor” has the same implications as “One ship was attacked by one plane at Pearl Harbor.” My guess is that such a discussion with a believer would go back-and-forth with these types of analogies–neither person accepting the other person’s examples.

It may very well be that the phrasing in the original languages has implications that are closer to the latter phrase than the former, but my guess is that there would be experts on both sides.

My point is that most believers find this explanation plausible (even probable), and unless we can demonstrate that the original phrasing strongly implies a contradiction, I wouldn’t emphasize these particular discrepancies.

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GG June 27, 2010 at 6:19 am

Are you a Muslim?

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Martin June 27, 2010 at 7:17 am

I know…it feels like a cop-out to me, too. But, for a believer, this explanation is quite plausible. Is there any response to this other than “I don’t see why they would have left that out”…basically, an argument from personal incredulity?

Witnesses of the Titanic were conflicted between those who thought the boat cracked in half and those who thought it sank in one piece. A traumatic event like that, and witnesses couldn’t agree on the basics.

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Steven Carr June 27, 2010 at 7:38 am

In the Novels,the Novelists take what somebody else had written and deliberately change it tosuit their own agenda.

This is a lot different from witnesses not knowing the full story.

Why does Ehrman trash the Gospels as history and then write books explaining how he uses the Gospels to uncover historical facts?

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liam June 27, 2010 at 3:20 pm

Did the person tagging the video know at the time how incredibly fucking annoying it is? Its like i’m watching a bible themes CNN report but worse.

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Lorkas June 27, 2010 at 4:15 pm

You can turn off the annotations in the bottom right menu, if that’s what annoys you.

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Jeff H June 27, 2010 at 6:38 pm

I never knew that the word in Acts mentioned in regard to Peter and John literally meant “illiterate”. I may have to use that tidbit next time someone tells me that we can trust the traditional authorship of the Gospel accounts…

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Matthew D. Johnston June 27, 2010 at 8:22 pm

Got to say, I think Ehrman comes across better in his writings than in public speaking. In the few lectures/debates I’ve seen of him, he seems a bit jumpy. Well organized and well spoken, but he grips the podium quite a tad and raises his voice too often. Although, in fairness, I guess it would be too much to ask for him to have the poise and cool confidence of a Bill Craig.

Nathan – I agree that it’s hopelessly frustrating to convince a committed believer that any biblical inconsistency is truly a contradiction. The reason is obvious: so long as there is a possible reconciliation it does not matter whether it is remotely probable – the mere possibility coupled with the prior invested belief in inerrancy saves the text.

And they’re right. If you concede that something – anything at all – is to be trusted until it can be shown that there is no metaphysically possible way for it to be true, then the argument is lost. The problem is that anything could be held as sacred by this standard. It makes no appeal to best explanation. It makes no sense of context or the intentions of the writer(s). It is the lowest standard one could possibly apply. Frankly, if somebody wants to appeal to this notion, I say let them have it.

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Márcio June 27, 2010 at 8:39 pm

http://www.carm.org/manuscript-evidence

Manuscript evidence for superior New Testament reliability.

Bart Ehrman FAIL!!!!

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Márcio June 27, 2010 at 8:40 pm

“If the critics of the Bible dismiss the New Testament as reliable information, then they must also dismiss the reliability of the writings of Plato, Aristotle, Caesar, Homer, and the other authors.”

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lukeprog June 27, 2010 at 9:41 pm

Marcio,

Yup, we have more manuscripts for the New Testament than any other ancient work, and these manuscripts are closer in age to the date of original composition. But that fact doesn’t really engage Ehrman’s points.

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rvkevin June 27, 2010 at 9:57 pm

If the critics of the Bible dismiss the New Testament as reliable information, then they must also dismiss the reliability of the writings of Plato, Aristotle, Caesar, Homer, and the other authors.

The absurdity of implying that anyone takes Homer’s writings as historically reliable leaves me almost too dumbfounded to comment on it, other than saying that I must have missed the one-eyed giants in the fossil record. As for the other works, such as Plato’s and Aristotle’s philosophical writings, their words stand on their own merits, but we don’t rely on these works as tools to uncover historical events. We recognize that these accounts may not be historically accurate, so what’s your point?

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Rhys Wilkins June 27, 2010 at 10:02 pm

“If the critics of the Bible dismiss the New Testament as reliable information, then they must also dismiss the reliability of the writings of Plato, Aristotle, Caesar, Homer, and the other authors.”

I do dismiss many of the extraordinary claims in these works. For example, I do not think that Aphrodite, the Greek love goddess, bribed Paris with Helen of Troy’s affections in return for Paris’ endorsement of Aphrodite as the most beautiful goddess alive. I also do not think that Achilles was a demigod. Do I think that Helen is the daughter of Zeus? Heck no!

Onto the Bible, was a man-god born from a virgin’s womb? Get out of town. Did this man-god turn water into wine? Bullshit. Did he rise magically from the dead? Yeah, he sure did :)

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ShaneSteinhauser June 27, 2010 at 10:13 pm

@Marcio

The article that you link to cites Lee Strobel, Josh McDowell, Ray Comfort, and some leader of a pastoral association. Could you validate what these dubious authors say? If the dates for those non-biblical writings were from some more reliable souces I would be happy to check them out.

I think you are getting something confused here. Ehrman said it is important to have reports that were written down immediatly after an event by an eyewitnesss. He never said that the copies of the original report had to be closer.

So you are getting “the closer the original report is to an event the more reliable it is” confused with “the closer a copy of a report is to the original copy the more reliable it is”.

The first criteria is legit. The second one is silly. What if someone tells me that Godzilla attacked Japan and I write it down and my writing is copied only once in history 10 years later? Is that report now more reliable than the Gospels? After all it now has only 10 years between original and the copy. Do you see what I’m getting at?

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ShaneSteinhauser June 27, 2010 at 10:15 pm

lol I took so long editing my post that 4 other people beat me to the punch.

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Mark June 27, 2010 at 10:59 pm

I would really like to see some Homeric apologetics. Hundreds of witnesses observed Achilles drag Hector’s corpse around with his chariot!

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ShaneSteinhauser June 28, 2010 at 11:52 am

Yes Mark! And we know this because Homer tells us so! Just like we know that 500 people saw Jesus rise to heaven because Paul tells us so!

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Jeff H June 28, 2010 at 12:21 pm

Would Patroclus have died for a lie?

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Steven Carr June 28, 2010 at 12:39 pm

Would Bernie Madoff have gone to jail for a lie?

Actually the story of Christian persecution shows that you did not have to die for a lie. You could often be free for a fee. Pagans could often be bribed.

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al friedlander June 28, 2010 at 7:48 pm

“@Marcio

The article that you link to cites Lee Strobel, Josh McDowell, Ray Comfort, and some leader of a pastoral association. Could you validate what these dubious authors say?”

*flashback*

Oh dear Jeebus, it’s MATT SLICK. I totally remember that guy, he was a visiting pastor/apologist from my old church. Guy is ruthless, and gets a kick out of hell/retribution/God’s wrath. From what I’ve seen of his most recent endeavors/works, he seems to be fully convinced that he is a philosopher of the upper-echelon (only half joking on this bit).

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Thomas June 29, 2010 at 6:15 am

Ehrman once again attacks his fundamentalist-strawman. “Either NT is inspired and contains no errors and contradictions and different points of view at all or it is worthless and not reliable at all”. But this is a complete strawman. I´ll quote Dean Overman:

Ehrman takes critical points here and there, which all New Testament scholars know, and then exaggerates their significance by creating a false dichotomy: Either the New Testament contains no errors whatsoever or one cannot trust any of it. An overwhelming number of scholars find this rigid, fundamentalist based dichotomy to be strawman far removed from a balanced perspective on the reliability of the gospel tradition and the canonical gosple accounts. (Overman, A Case for the Divinity of Jesus, 2009, p. 261.)

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Bram van Dijk June 29, 2010 at 7:06 am

Thomas, that is not correct at all. Ehrman writes whole books about what he thinks happened historically to Jesus, and what he writes is mainly based on the four canonical gospels.

So Ehrman does not think that the gospels are worthless and not reliable at all.

However, he does argue (pretty convincingly) that the bible is not inerrant. As he used to believe himself that the bible is inerrant, this is an important issue for him.

Now, you can say “I don’t believe the bible is inerrant myself, therefore his argument is irrelevant”, then you are partly correct. It may not be relevant for you, but it is relevant for those who do think the bible is inerrant.

Also, if you do not believe the bible is inerrant, you have a lot of explaining to do if you want to argue that Jesus was resurrected. Ehrman argues that this is quite a large burden, given the specific characteristics of the gospels.

Thus, Ehrman does not “create a false dichotomy” at all. His argument is more subtle that the simple one you attribute to him.

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Steven Carr June 29, 2010 at 11:23 am

THOMAS
I´ll quote Dean Overman..

CARR
Why not quote Ehrman? After all, the video is there to be quoted.

Because Ehrman doesn’t say what you want him to say?

Ehrman does not think the Gospels are worthless, but in the video when he talks about how real historians do real history , he obviously does not say how Biblical historians do Biblical history.

It’s the old bait-and-switch. Talk about real history, and then write books based on the Gospels…

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Steven Carr June 29, 2010 at 11:25 am

OVERMAN
Ehrman takes critical points here and there, which all New Testament scholars know,…

CARR
Yes, all New Testament scholars know the Gospels contradict each other.

Including William Lane Craig – assuming he is a New Testament scholar and so knows that sort of stuff.

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David Rogers July 1, 2010 at 11:45 am

Ehrman’s theses are challenged in a recent rebuttal titled “the Heresy of Orthodoxy” by Kostenberger and Kruger. Anyone who thinks that Ehrman’s conclusions are settled and unadressed by competent equivalent scholarship should be willing to put their alleged logical analytical skills to the test.

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lukeprog July 1, 2010 at 12:01 pm

Thanks, David, I was unaware of Kostenberger and Kruger.

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Shane July 19, 2010 at 1:39 pm

See, here is somewhere I think Bart could be a bit more forceful – the Triumphal Entry. The anonymous author of “Matthew” has two donkeys; the other gospels only have one. Now, some might argue that he introduced the second donkey to reinforce the prophecy of Zechariah, EXCEPT he misunderstands the Hebrew idiom of Zechariah – emphasis by parallelism, and thinks that Zechariah is talking about two donkeys, when in fact he is only talking about one.

That would be bad enough, but it is worse, because Matthew is not composing his own account of the event – he is FIXING a defect that he thinks he has found in Mark. So, essentially, he sees Mark, realises it does not fulfil his misunderstanding of Zechariah (despite the fact that John had no such problems), and deliberately fakes an extra donkey in order to make his story fit.

It is a clear irrefutable example of an embellishment, and calls into question (of course) Matthew’s other embellishments, such as the guard on the tomb, the corpses rising and walking into Jerusalem, the earthquake, the angels, and any post-resurrection appearances.

Indeed, this truly is the Donkey of Doom for Matthew’s credibility, and demonstrates beyond doubt that it was NOT written by an “eyewitness”. So for William Lane Craig to say that 99% of the NT was solid in the originals is just wrong – the process of revision was well under way before the end of C1CE, and the gospel writers themselves did not regard the works of the other gospel writers as in any way “canonical”. Getting accurate historical information from these documents is very hard, but we can be as certain as it is possible to be that the the resurrection itself did NOT happen.

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