Father Barron v. Bart Ehrman: No Contest
In the category of mismatched adversaries, Father Barron gives us a striking example today:
In this most recent tome, Ehrman lays out what is actually a very old thesis, going back at least to the 18th century and repeated ad nauseam in skeptical circles ever since, namely, that Jesus was a simple itinerant preacher who never claimed to be divine and whose “resurrection” was in fact an invention of his disciples who experienced hallucinations of their master after his death. Of course Ehrman, like so many of his skeptical colleagues across the centuries, breathlessly presents this thesis as though he has made a brilliant discovery.
But basically, it’s the same old story. When I was a teenager, I read British Biblical scholar Hugh Schonfield’s Passover Plot, which lays out the same narrative, and just a few months ago, I read Reza Aslan’s Zealot, which pursues a very similar line, and I’m sure next Christmas or Easter I will read still another iteration of the theory.
And so, once more into the breach. Ehrman’s major argument for the thesis that Jesus did not consider himself divine is that explicit statements of Jesus’s divine identity can be found only in the later fourth Gospel of John, whereas the three Synoptic Gospels, earlier and thus presumably more historically reliable, do not feature such statements from Jesus himself or the Gospel writers. This is so much nonsense. It is indeed the case that the most direct affirmations of divinity are found in John — “I and the Father are one;” “before Abraham was I am;” “He who sees me sees the Father,” etc.
For example, in Mark’s Gospel, we hear that as the apostolic band is making its way toward Jerusalem with Jesus, “they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid” (Mk. 10:32). Awe and terror are the typical reactions to the presence of Yahweh in the Old Testament. Similarly, when Matthew reports that Jesus, at the beginning of the last week of his earthly life, approached Jerusalem from the east, by way of Bethpage and Bethany and the Mount of Olives, he is implicitly affirming Ezekiel’s prophecy that the glory of the Lord, which had departed from his temple, would return from the east, by way of the Mount of Olives. In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus addresses the crippled man who had been lowered through the roof of Peter’s house, saying, “My son, your sins are forgiven,” to which the bystanders respond, “Who does this man think he is? Only God can forgive sins.” What is implied there is a Christology as high as anything in John’s Gospel.
And affirmations of divinity on the lips of Jesus himself positively abound in the Synoptics. When he says, in Matthew’s Gospel, “He who does not love me more than his mother or father is not worthy of me,” he is implying that he himself is the greatest possible good. When in Luke’s Gospel, he says, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away,” he is identifying himself with the very Word of God. When he says in Matthew’s Gospel, in reference to himself, “But I tell you, something greater than the Temple is here,” he is affirming unambiguously that he is divine, since for first century Jews, only Yahweh himself would be greater than the Jerusalem Temple. Perhaps most remarkably, when he says, almost as a tossed-off aside at the commencement of the Sermon on the Mount, “You have heard it said, but I say…” he is claiming superiority to the Torah, which was the highest possible authority for first century Jews. But the only one superior to the Torah would be the author of the Torah, namely God himself.
Obviously examples such as these from the Synoptic authors could be multiplied indefinitely. The point is that the sharp demarcation between the supposedly “high” Christology of John and the “low” Christology of the Synoptics, upon which the Ehrman thesis depends, is simply wrong-headed.
Go here to read the rest at Real Clear Religion. In regard to Bart Erhman, who desperately wants the historical Jesus not to be the Christ he once worshiped as God, this quotation from The Screwtape Letters comes to mind:
You will find that a good many Christian political writers think that Christianity began going wrong in departing from the doctrine of its founder at a very early stage. Now this idea must be used by us to encourage once again the conception of a “historical Jesus” to be found by clearing away later “accretions and perversions,” and then to be contrasted with the whole Christian tradition. In the last generation we promoted the construction of such a “historical Jesus” on liberal and humanitarian lines. We are now putting forward a new “historical Jesus” on Marxian, catastrophic and revolutionary lines. The advantages of these constructions, which we intend to change every thirty years or so, are manifold. In the first place they all tend to direct man’s devotion to something which does not exist. Because each “historical Jesus” is unhistorical, the documents say what they say and they cannot be added to. Each new “historical Jesus” has to be got out of them by suppression at one point and exaggeration at another point. And by that sort of guessing (brilliant is the adjective we teach humans to apply to it) on which no one would risk ten shillings in ordinary life, but which is enough to produce a crop of new Napoleons, new Shakespeares, and new Swifts in every publisher’s autumn list. . . . The “historical Jesus,” then, however dangerous he may seem to be to us at some particular point, is always to be encouraged.
Much can be learned about the history of Jesus from close study of the Gospels and the myriad primary sources for the times in which He lived, but searches for “The Historical Jesus” are usually motivated by a strong desire to make a religious point: that Christ is not who He said that He is. Any scholarship that seeks to reach a desired conclusion, evidence be hanged, is so much sowing of the wind.