Ehrman: messages and doctrines in the books of the NT

February 28, 2010 at 12:04 am (Christianity, God)

I have finished Bart D. Ehrman’s “Jesus, Interrupted”. It was a good read, and there were a couple of interesting points from it that I wanted to note down.

Firstly, he brought attention to the differences between the different gospels in terms of the overall message. Luke in particular has an interesting message. The passages where Jesus is being taken to be crucified show him being very calm and collected, not distressed in any way. He is presented as the perfect martyr, and the purpose of his death to the author of Luke – as expressed through the book of Acts which is written by the same author – was to make people see they had erred, they had crucified an innocent Messiah, and to prompt them to repent. The centurion at the crucifixion scene states that Jesus was innocent, driving this point home. Luke’s gospel was based on Mark’s gospel, but Luke removed the part that said Jesus was to give his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45), and the curtain in the Temple rips while Jesus is still alive – so not to demonstrate that his death provided a way for man and God to commune freely, but to signify that God had abandoned the Jews for crucifying their Messiah. I thought that was interesting.

Secondly, he showed contradictions between letters attributed to Paul, which are used by scholars to demonstrate that Paul didn’t write them all. For example:

“For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.” (Romans 6:5)

“having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead.” (Colossians 2:12)

Little things like that interest me, because I assumed Christian doctrine was all clear-cut and thought I knew exactly what it was. Now I see that it really depends which book of the New Testament you read. When I read it, I will bear this in mind and not try to force it all to cohere.

There was also some interesting stuff in the book about the development of early Christianity and all the different movements that believed different things, and how the movement was transformed from Jesus’ religion to a religion about Jesus. I’m not going to quote anything but I recommend the book to anyone interested in that.

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7 Comments

  1. susanne430 said,

    Interesting! I hope after reading and discussing Matthew (with you and anyone else who wants to join us) that I can move on to Mark and Luke and eventually all the way through the NT to discuss things. Not that I have all the answers….I may raise more questions than I want, but I think it’ll be a good thing for me to do. 🙂

    As for the Romans and Colossians verses, I’d have to check them in their full contexts, but I don’t see those as contradictory. Paul uses baptism as a symbol of our dying to our sin, being buried (our immersion into water) and being raised again to new life in Christ (rising out of the water.) I think in one passage he was referring to this baptismal “resurrection” whereas in the other he was referring to the literal resurrection from the dead. I may be completely wrong, but that’s how I understand it to be. Thanks for posting about this book! I found what he wrote about Luke quite interesting as well.

  2. sanil said,

    I haven’t actually read much of Ehrman’s work, but I’ve liked what you’ve said about him and I think I’ll stop and pick up a book or two of his from the library when I get a chance. 🙂

    I wish churches would talk more about the differences between the gospels and letters. I love seeing how the understanding of the writer comes through in them, and think there’s a lot to be gained by viewing the gospels as individual works rather than trying to merge them all into a unified history of Jesus’ life. The theological points each writer is trying to show through his biography are completely missed without that separation, and I personally feel that the message they were trying to communicate should be at least as important as the anecdotes the gospels are often reduced to.

  3. Achelois said,

    When I ordered Misquoting Jesus I got a lot of invitations from Amazon to order Jesus Interrupted. I wish I had ordered it as well.

    I’m re-reading Misquoting Jesus and can see parallel themes in Jesus Interrupted from your posts. Last night I read a very interesting chapter on ancient scribes and how they worked – some were NOT literate! They merely copied words letter by letter which could result in errors like you posted between Romans and Colossians. I’m planning a long post on it linking it with Islam but I have to think a lot too before I do that.

  4. caraboska said,

    In the circles I have traveled in, the differences between the gospels are pointed out. And it is all seen in a context of ‘Jesus is this AND that AND the other thing AND the other thing’ instead of ‘Jesus is this (OR maybe that? OR maybe the other thing? OR maybe the other thing?). So, no contradiction.

    And I think Susanne has hit the nail right on the head regarding the verses in Romans and Colossians. There is no need to use any kind of force to come to those conclusions, it is obvious from the context that those are the correct meanings – enough so that one would have to REALLY WANT the Bible to mean something else in order to come to another conclusion.

    About ‘Misquoting Jesus’ – my mother sent me that book ages ago in an attempt to persuade me to stop taking the Bible as God’s Word. When I was younger, perhaps it would have disturbed me. Nowadays I don’t see the author’s words as discrediting the Bible – this does not appear, furthermore, to be his intent. I read them, then I sit back and calmly reflect: ‘I have known and lived the Bible for 30 years. I know the power of its words and message, and need no one to tell me whether it is God’s Word.’

  5. Wrestling said,

    Thanks for all your comments!

    What I found interesting in the examples from Paul that I gave was not that there are contradictions, but the suggestion that his true view – that given in Romans – is that believers are not yet raised from the dead. (He was talking about baptism there too.) It was different from what I thought.

    I have no desire to convince anyone that Paul didn’t really write all of the letters attributed to him… this was not an attempt to make the argument, just a little example that I found interesting. You would have to read the book (or any of a number of other books on the subject) to get the full argument.

    • susanne430 said,

      Yes, I understand. You just made me curious about those verses since you mentioned them. Since I had a Bible handy I glanced at them. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the book!

  6. LK said,

    Oooo I want this one too. Im so fascinated by how religions develope and concepts of belief change. Amazing.

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