I’ve started my next book: “Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (and Why We Don’t Know About Them)” by Bart D. Ehrman. I bought this at the same time as the other Jesus book, by E. P. Sanders, as I wanted the truth about Jesus and these two authors seemed to be widely regarded as prominent New Testament scholars. Ehrman has many books that sound interesting, but the reviews indicate that there is a lot of overlap between them, so I thought I’d just buy the most recent one.
Here are a couple of quotes from the first chapter:
“One of the most amazing and perplexing features of mainstream Christianity is that seminarians who learn the historical-critical method in their Bible classes appear to forget all about it when it comes time for them to be pastors. They are taught critical approaches to Scripture, they learn about the discrepancies and contradictions, they discover all sorts of historical errors and mistakes, they come to realize that it is difficult to know whether Moses existed or what Jesus actually said and did, they find that there are other books that were at one time considered canonical but that ultimately did not become part of Scripture (for example, other Gospels and Apocalypses), they come to recognize that a good number of the books of the Bible are pseudonymous (for example, written in the name of an apostle by someone else), that in fact we don’t have the original copies of any of the biblical books but only copies made centuries later, all of which have been altered. They learn all this, and yet when they enter church ministry they appear to put it back on the shelf.”
“The views I set out in this book are standard fare among scholars. I don’t know a single Bible scholar who will learn a single thing from this book, although they will disagree with conclusions here and there. In theory, pastors should not learn much from it either, as this material is widely taught in seminaries and divinity schools. But most people in the street, and in the pew, have heard none of this before. That is a real shame, and it is time that something is done to correct the problem.”
I have to agree with Ehrman that it is “amazing and perplexing”. Why is there such a huge divide between what is taught in church and what is taught in college to prospective church pastors?
The historical-critical method is, let’s face it, a rational method looking for objective, factual truth. It’s like science. There is no wonder I am attracted to books like this; it’s no secret that I have been after literal truth. When I read Sanders’ book, it was so refreshingly thought-provoking, I thought even then, why haven’t I ever read stuff like this before? Why don’t churches promote this type of knowledge? Why don’t these books get pushed in Wesley Owen? Aren’t churches missing a huge opportunity to reach out through this research to people who have been conditioned to use their minds and won’t respond to traditional platitudes?
We are a long way from an Islamic equivalent of this research, never mind its dissemination. But unlike the Quran, large chunks of the Bible were never meant to be written by God; inspired by God, sure, but not necessarily perfect. Even when in the grip of evangelical faith I was able to see that the New Testament is mostly letters from one person to another(s), and I could never entertain the notion that the writers of the letters ever meant their words to be taken as God’s. Ehrman says that the knowledge he is presenting in the book does not destroy Christian faith; he lost his own faith over the problem of suffering, and it was nothing to do with his developing an honest, objective picture of the Bible.
At a time when I’m struggling to hold onto my regard for religion, reading something like that puts another nail in the coffin. I feel like people are being cheated out of truth. I can’t see any justification for knowingly peddling myth (here, the myth of Bible inerrancy) as literal truth.