Thoughts From Ehrman’s How Jesus Became God…

I finally got around to begin reading Bart Ehrman’s How Jesus Became God and so far, it’s okay. Ehrman draws comparisons of Jesus to other god-man figures around the same time period of Jesus and essentially, as far as I can tell, makes the assertion (among other related assertions) that Jesus never believed himself to be God incarnate. And as ridiculous as this may sound, that actually doesn’t bother me.

Saying that Jesus didn’t believe himself to be God isn’t the same as saying he wasn’t actually God – that is, simply because Jesus may not have believed himself to be God doesn’t necessarily mean he wasn’t. Jesus’ divinity need not have relied upon his self-awareness as God. John’s gospel would stand out as a little odd if Jesus didn’t actually believe himself to be God, but even so, he still could be God without believing it.

There are quite a few passages in the New Testament that instantly become more interesting with this understanding of Jesus’ self-understanding. When Jesus references the “Son of Man” or the “Human One” (as the CEB has it), who is Jesus talking about if he isn’t talking about himself?

One passage that comes to mind is Mark 8:27-33:

Jesus and his disciples went into the villages near Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that I am?’

They told him, ‘Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, and still others one of the prophets.’

He asked them, ‘And what about you? Who do you say that I am?’

Peter answered, ‘You are the Christ.’ Jesus ordered them not to tell anyone about him.

Then Jesus began to teach his disciples: ‘The Human One must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and the legal experts, and be killed, and then, after three days, rise from the dead.’ He said this plainly. But Peter took hold of Jesus and, scolding him, began to correct him. Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, then sternly corrected Peter: ‘Get behind me, Satan. You are not thinking God’s thoughts but human thoughts.’

As I said, there are many others, but most of them seem related to this one: predictions of the “Son of Man’s” torture, death, and resurrection. Now I know that Peter calls Jesus “the Christ” and then Jesus goes into a mini-lecture about the “Human One” or “Son of Man,” but to my understanding these were hardly indistinguishable terms. To reference one is to reference the other. If this is the case and Jesus did not believe himself to be the “Human One,” then perhaps we are seeing a bit of Jesus’ humanity – much more than we anticipated or even wanted.

If you hadn’t guessed it by now, Ehrman’s book is one about Christology (the study of Christ). Under such a study is the question of the divinity of Jesus: Whether he was God incarnate or an ordinary man who was later deified (as is Ehrman’s contention in How Jesus Became God). And after reading the hundred-some pages of Ehrman’s book, I am beginning to wonder if it isn’t a mixture of the two; that perhaps Jesus believed himself to be an ordinary man, yet was God incarnate, dwelling “among us.”

In passages like the one above, we find what we thought was a confident God-man testing his disciples about their faith. Yet if Jesus is the ordinary God-man, then might this be a scene of Jesus discovering who he actually is? When he’s asking what others think of him and then what the disciples think of him, perhaps he’s seriously wondering if he might be the Christ? And with his teaching about what the Son of God/Human One must suffer immediately following his discussion with the disciples, might this be Jesus fully realizing his fate? “He said this plainly,” half terrified and yet half mesmerized as to what was unfolding.

Although mostly to keep up with what’s popular, I am eager to read the rest of Ehrman’s book as well as the response, How God Became Jesus, from Michael F. Bird, Craig A. Evans, Simon J. Gathercole, Charles E. Hill, and Chris Tilling – an endeavor I wanted to take up months ago. But for now, I would love to hear what others think about the idea of Jesus not knowing he was God: Do you think it’s plausible or ridiculous? What does it mean for our faith in Christ if this were true – what changes and what stays the same?

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Spring’s Reading List…

Since I’m still going through scholastic withdrawals, I’ve picked up several books to read over the next couple weeks and/or months. I’m still working on several books from my previous reading list(s), but little by little, I think I’ve made some room for a few more. And since I seem to read more attentively when reading several instead of only one, I’m hoping these will prove fruitful in the long run.

Below is a list of four books that were all released this year. Three of them seem to have the potential of overlapping in subject matter while the other seems it will remain in its own category. I’m presenting them here mostly to invite discussions and feedback as I go through them. I’m hoping for several posts about each.

Peter Enns: The Evolution of Adam: What the Bible Does and Doesn’t Say About Human Origins

What the Bible Does and Doesn't Say About Human Origins
Actually, I've been "reading" this for a couple months :-/...

Technically I’ve already started this one. However, work got crazy busy at one point and before I knew it, it was an entire month before I picked it up again. So, with the spring rain keeping me indoors, I’ve decided to restart Enns’ new work.

I’ve never read anything from Peter Enns except for a couple blog posts. If he writes in this book like he does on his blog, I think I’m in for a treat. For starters, I believe he has a refreshing view on inerrancy (as well as his colleagues). Secondly, he seriously considers cultural context – this I remember from when I first began this book. Where I left off the first time was when he was describing the various names for God in the book of Genesis. As I’ve read in John J. Collins’ Intro to the Hebrew Bible, these different names suggest the possibility of different sources compiled together to produce the one book of Genesis (or the several books of the Torah). It’ll be interesting to see where Enns goes from here.

John Dominic Crossan: The Power of Parable: How Fiction by Jesus Became Fiction about Jesus

How Fiction by Jesus Became Fiction about Jesus
Interested yet skeptical...

I’m not so sure I like the subtitle; seems to be stretching something too far. But I’m looking forward to how he presents it. I appreciated his collective work with Marcus Borg in The First Paul, so there might be a few gems to find in here. Although, after reading the summary on the back of the cover, I’m a little uneasy regardless of what I’ve read from Crossan before. “Crossan also shows how [the] four gospel writers ended up undermining Jesus’ true message of God’s kingdom – that of bring peace and justice for all.” It remains to be determined whether Crossan believes the writers did this as a side product or as something intentional – as something they had set out to do all along. Extra care will be required for this one.

Bart D. Ehrman: Did Jesus Exist? The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth

The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth
Interested and excited...

I’ve written rather negatively about Ehrman in the past, but I’ve also written positively about him, too. Overall, I disagree with many of his conclusions, but yet greatly appreciate his critiques. What he wrote in Misquoting Jesus reaffirmed my distaste for inerrancy arguments while directing my faith toward God rather than a doctrine. I know that he probably did not intend to, but his critiques have really helped to strengthen my faith.

This book seems to be one that might do just that: reaffirm and strengthen my beliefs in God and His son Jesus. One thing I’m aware of, though, is that he isn’t writing for members of the faith. Rather, he seems to be writing on behalf of Bible scholars and historians. Nevertheless, I’m excited to read how one of the more prominent Bible critics of our time defends Jesus’ historicity – that is, how he believes that Jesus actually did live and walk as a real person. Whatever other claims he may or may not make along the way will probably require a dose of salt, but overall I’m eager to read his new book.

N.T. Wright: How God Became King: The Forgotten Story of the Gospels

The Forgotten Story of the Gospels
Stoked...

I get the sense that this is somehow communicating with Crossan’s work in some way. Even if it isn’t, I think both Wright and Crossan will discuss similar passages and have many counterpoints to each other. I’ve read plenty of N. T. Wright and have enjoyed every bit of his works. However, that’s no excuse to turn off a critical mind. In fact, in the scholarly world it’s somewhat of a disgrace if all one does is flatter another’s work rather than question some of the holes. What this simply means is that I must be open to the possibility of disagreeing with Wright on some things.

All in all, I’m very excited for another month or two of reading. Unlike most school terms, everything I read nowadays is entirely of my own choosing. So know that when I’m reading The Hobbit, The Problem of Pain, The Hunger Games, The Sun Also Rises, Introduction to the Hebrew Bible, or any of the ones mentioned above (all of which have bookmarks indicating that I’ve at least started to read them), I’m doing so because I want to; not because I have to.

Please do not be afraid to comment or question on any of the posts I write spawning from what I read. In fact, that’s why I’m writing about them now: To provoke discussions about rather controversial issues if only to stir our own thoughts. Who knows, you and I might actually agree on a thing or two.

God bless.

Was Philip Abducted by Aliens?

Studying the book of Acts has been refreshing. When I usually read through Scripture, Acts is one of those books that I know little about and doesn’t seem to have too much to impact my faith. Sure, there are plenty of passages I find moving and uplifting, but for the most part, I’d rather read a Gospel or one of Paul’s epistles.

But with my work schedule slowing down and no longer being heavily involved with a church, I’ve had some free time to study through Acts thoroughly. With at least three study Bibles and one commentary opened before me, I’ve strolled through the first eight chapters taking every detail in bit by bit. And then today, right at the end of chapter 8, something caught my attention:

“And when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord carried Philip away, and the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing. But Philip found himself at Azotus, and as he passed through he preached the gospel to all the towns until he came to Caesarea,” – 8:39-40

Blame it on all the episodes of “X-Files” I watched as a kid or blame my ridiculous imagination, but when I read this verse I pictured Philip being abducted by a UFO and transplanted over in Azotus. Ancient versions of Skully and Mulder would arrive where he landed, ask him a few questions about what he saw, and then move on to the next piece of the mysterious puzzle. Maybe that’s what got Luke started on his investigation in the first place? Maybe he was just hanging out in Azotus one day, doing whatever it was ancient physicians did back then, and then saw Philip come out of nowhere? Unlikely and a bit ridiculous, but possible. Right?

In all seriousness, however, I’ve always wondered about this passage and what it does for one’s faith. Personally, I question whether or not it happened since, like Dr. Bart Ehrman writes in his Brief Introduction, ancient historians “generally had little concern for, and less chance of, getting everything ‘right,’ at least in terms of the high level of historical accuracy expected by modern readers,” (164). But beyond its historicity, a question I can try to answer is: What does it mean for Luke’s message in Acts?

Here is where I’m hoping you could help me out. I have little invested into the book of Acts, so I’m trying to see what spiritual value there might be in having Philip miraculously transported from one place to another (roughly twenty-some miles apart). What does this passage mean to you? How do you interpret what happened? Was it like Elijah being carried away or was it Luke’s simple explanation of how Philip got from one place to another so quickly?

Or was it aliens (insert audio file of the “X-Files” theme music)?

Thoughts?

Our Problem, God’s Solution…

Dr. Bart Ehrman has a book titled, God’s Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question – Why We Suffer. I’ve never read this book, so I’m not going to make a counter-argument to what I think Ehrman would say after a title like this (although, I have read much of his other works and I know his perspective on the issue). What’s been on my mind for a while is the subject of human suffering while an all-powerful, loving God sits on the sidelines.

I alluded to this in my other post from today, but I wanted to expand a bit more here. The basic question that trips many people up – myself included – is why is there pain? Why is there so much suffering throughout the world if the God of the Bible is an all-powerful, loving God who could bring about absolute peace in an instant? It really is a frustrating question.

For me, I see it as more of a philosophical question than an argumentative one, though it could be both. At any rate, finding an answer to this question is extremely difficult because 1. It isn’t explicitly dealt with in Scripture and 2. To thoroughly answer it, we must have access to the foreknowledge of God, which – if we have any access at all – is extremely limited. Nevertheless, the question remains and we can’t avoid it.

A traditional way of answering this question breaks it into two parts; why is there suffering and why isn’t God doing anything about it?

Why is there suffering?

In general, many Christians refer back to the Fall of Man in Genesis 3; where Eve and Adam ate the forbidden fruit and sin entered the world. At this point, many Christians say, “There’s your answer; that’s why human suffering exists.” I would say it’s a little more nuanced than this. For one thing, Genesis 1-11 may not be an historical account of the world’s beginnings. Nevertheless, the metaphor from this story is just as true and gives, essentially, the same answer: Humans can be selfish. Our selfishness, if consciously gratified, can bring about devastating consequences.

There is suffering because humanity has had a history of acting out of selfish desires here and there and the consequences have gotten worse and worse over a long period of time. We are part of the problem. Every time we gratify our carnal desires for money, food, sex, drugs, or whatever else our inclinations may be, we bring about consequences of pain and suffering not only for ourselves, but for the people around us as well. It may take years for these consequences to surface, but they do. And they hurt.

Why isn’t God doing anything about it?

In short, I believe He is. But, obviously, not in the way we want Him to. This entire issue of human suffering and God’s fix to the problem delves into the existence of free will. We are part of the problem because we have made terrible choices with our free will. God’s solution to the problem, however, also comes through our choices with our free will.

Right now I’m studying through the book of Acts. It’s a strange book when you consider all the others and their genres. Acts is in its own category altogether. It’s not entirely a Gospel because it doesn’t narrate the life and teachings of Jesus. And yet it’s not entirely a doctrinal or theological treatise like the epistles, either. What is it then?

It’s an account (sometimes a theological one, sometimes an historical one, etc.) of Jesus’ movement through His disciples after He has disappeared. It highlights the choices His disciples make (after walking with Him for only about 3 years) with their free will. They argued, backslid, and even sinned in their effort to consciously follow Jesus, but overall they began a movement that, whether you believe in Jesus or not, changed the world forever. What were the consequences of this movement? Well, not all of them were good, obviously. But a solution to human suffering is in motion.

The Book of Acts encapsulates God’s war on human suffering by utilizing the powerful weapon of human compassion. Jesus (or Emmanuel, “God With Us”) arrives into human history, as the Gospels portray, to live the life God wants each of His followers to consciously live. He loves the unlovable, serves the servants, touches the untouchables, and feeds the people no one, not even His disciples (they ask Jesus to “Send them away” – Mark 6:36), would dare to feed. He taught us to love God and love our neighbor.

But then He was crucified – killed by the very people He had shown compassion, mercy, and reckless love to. Why did God allow this to happen? So that the consequences of our sinful actions may no longer be passed down to human generation after human generation, but to Himself. He took what we deserved because He knew that if He didn’t, His solution to the problem would never have a chance of coming about.

Something else then happens: Jesus is raised from the dead. What happens here is that God defeated the consequences of sin (death) in His own death. As John Mark McMillan sings, He put “Death in his grave.” What this then enabled is what we see in the Book of Acts: God’s people empowered by His Spirit conquering the world not with violence and blood, but with service and love.

One might ask, “Well that’s all well and good, but God could just end human suffering, couldn’t He? He’s all-powerful, isn’t He?” True, but there’s a major oversight in this kind of questioning. It assumes, as far as I can see anyway, that the person asking it isn’t part of the problem. It assumes that he or she is, in fact, on the good side of it all – not partaking in causing someone else pain. But that is far from the truth. We all sin, therefore we are all part of the problem.

But the weapon that sin used to bring about this pain and suffering can be used to end it.

It’s a matter of choice.

“Why, then, did God give them free will? Because free will, though it makes evil possible, is also the only thing that makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having. A world of automata – of creatures that worked like machines – would hardly be worth creating. …

“Of course, God knew what would happen if they used their freedom the wrong way: apparently He thought it worth the risk. …If God thinks this state of war in the universe a price worth paying for free will – that is, for making a live world in which creatures can do real good or harm and something of real importance can happen, instead of a toy world which only moves when He pulls the strings – then we may take it it is worth paying,” – C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

God pushed His chips all in when He created creatures with free will. But, ironically, in paying everything He had, He also set in motion the only possible way of ending this thing called pain. If left to ourselves, we are hopeless. We will all suffer even worse than what we have in the past and it will never end. But God has snuck in through the back door and has launched an underground attack using us as His double-agents: Though we once provoked sin and all its consequences, we can now end it entirely.

Why the delay? Why doesn’t God somehow accelerate the process? The way I see it, as Lewis says, God wants us willingly on board. He wants us to be part of the solution. He doesn’t want us to root for His team as band-wagon fans, but because we truly believe and have faith in what He can accomplish. He doesn’t want us to just root for His team, either; He wants us playing for it. He wants us getting our hands dirty with the work His mission requires. And if you pay any attention at all to the amount of human suffering in the world, you can tell there is quite a bit of work to do.

All of this, of course, is my best guess at the problem of pain and God’s delay in solving it. To me it remains a frustrating issue, but that might be because I, in my selfish desires, would rather have someone else do the dirty work instead of me. This is exactly the problem and in order for anything to change, it begins with the disease growing in our hearts.

Thankfully, though, we know a good Physician.

God bless.

Baptism Part 7: Introduction to Christian Baptism…

Baptism gets interesting when it’s brought to Christianity. In the Dead Sea Scrolls, ritual immersion plays a major role in the belief system and practice at Qumran. But in the New Testament, there is a rich diversity of what baptism means and how it’s practiced. It’s difficult – probably near impossible – to give one decisive meaning for baptism, which then makes it essential to look at each text in and of itself to see what possible meanings can be deduced.

In my paper I broke it down to five main spheres of influence: John’s baptism (which combines the various Gospel views), Paul’s baptism (drawing from Galatians 3:27-29 and Ephesians 4:5), Acts 19:1-7 (which is an interesting turning point in the Christian baptism), 1st Peter 3:21, and – since it was a discussion of early Christianity and not just New Testament Christianity – Didache 7, which probably has more of a philosophical interpretation than the others.

I really didn’t get to discuss these varying facets at any real length, just briefly highlighting one or two main points. But since I’m not trying to fit any 12-15 page limitation, I’m hoping to break open each of these more fully. Also, after writing two 13-page papers on people being dunked in water, I’ve noticed other verses and passages in the NT that offer an interesting view of baptism and I’m looking forward to discussing those as well.

Right now, my plan for this next set of posts is to implement Gerd Theissen’s thoughts mixed with a couple other scholars (Everett Ferguson, N.T. Wright, and others). Theissen’s book, The Religion of the Earliest Churches: Creating a Symbolic World, acted as the framework of thought for Dr. Falk’s Early Christianity class in the winter, so I thought it’d be interesting to present some of his main points and invite readers into some of the discussions we had as a class.

Since from here on out is a long discussion on Christian baptism, I think it’d be best to title this set of posts as such; “Christian Baptism.” Of course there will be references back to Qumran or Greco-Roman washing rituals to discuss certain similarities, but ultimately my focus will be on the New Testament books as well as some of the non-canonical books (books that, for one reason or another, didn’t make it into the New Testament).

Ultimately the goal is to see/discuss the formulation of Christian thought regarding baptism’s role in following Christ. Was it simply an initiatory rite or could an early Jewish-Christian still partake in purity rituals? Was it thought of as simply a metaphor or did one need to physically be baptized? In answering and/or discussing these questions, I’m hoping to read through the New Testament and relevant books to see the evidence with fresh eyes. As scholars indicate, we can’t look into the minds of the New Testament authors and know what they were thinking when they penned their letters/gospels. But what we can do is read the text for what it is and go from there.

As N.T. Wright says, though, it can’t simply be a discussion based on speculation and mystical fantasy; there must be some grounding in historical evidence. Currently I’m reading his book The New Testament and the People of God, which I hope will provide some historical insight that isn’t otherwise present in the New Testament. I’ll also borrow information from Bart Ehrman and his textbook, A Brief Introduction to the New Testament.

There isn’t much time left in the summer, so I’m hoping to milk it for all it’s worth. Once again, though, I open the floor to any who would like to share questions, thoughts, or possible conclusions on the various things I write. What drove both my religious studies classes last winter wasn’t a long series of lectures from Professor Falk (although I’d pay just as much for that as well). No, what drove those seminars were the class discussions. Students’ thoughts were shared, challenged, and refined and I’m hoping something similar happens through these posts.

***For all the previous posts on baptism/ritual immersion, please click here or the “Baptism” tab on the side.

Modern Idolatry and Monotheism…

Paganism has been a recurring subject in my readings this summer. Of course, I’ve been reading a lot of Bart Ehrman and N.T. Wright who both attempt to understand the New Testament in its correct context: A Greco-Roman pagan world. What’s fascinating to me, though, is how common it was back then to believe in multiple – perhaps even countless – gods. It’s much easier for us to believe in one God since we’ve been raised in a predominantly “Christian” nation. But in the time that the NT was produced, it was ridiculous to think that there was just one.

Most of you may know that the word “Christian” was originally used as a derogatory term towards those idiotic Jesus freaks because they believed in one God. I don’t know why it’s so striking to me, but it is. And, actually, I think it simplifies the whole process. Instead of waking up and making a sacrifice to the mini-fridge god who keeps my food cold during the night and then going out into the world to make more sacrifices to more local gods to appease them so that things might go well for me, I just pray to Jesus. It really narrows down the email directory.

I’ve been thinking about it some more, though, and I’ve been wondering what other kinds of gods we’ve created in our world, even though we claim to be of a monotheistic faith? Well, as I discovered today, there’s the god of TV, the god gambling, the god alcohol, the god of movies, the god of Facebook, the god of Twitter, the god of WordPress… and on and on they go. In the ancient pagan world, we could justify all these different “gods” by adding some kind of ritual to them and giving some kind of reason as to why we must sacrifice to them (i.e. I must check Facebook 20 times a day so that I can get 20 more friends each week). But what Christians appear to have said in those days is that each of these must be de-deified. There is one true God whom we must all worship above any other.

I don’t think that the ancient pagans would worship random objects around the house; I think there was a little more to it than that. But my point is clear: We could very easily create a whole new set of gods within our own rooms that distract us from seeking the one God who we believe was responsible for raising Jesus from the grave. And it may not even be something you spend most of your time with, either; it could be something that you long for more than you long for God. Personally speaking, I think I have often exalted the idea of marriage. I’ve often craved a wife more than I’ve craved God. No, finding a wife isn’t a bad thing, but it could easily become a bad thing if I want one more than I want a relationship with God.

Modern idolatry appears to be much more subtle than we care to acknowledge. It’s not idolatry to watch TV for six hours of the day or play video games all through the night, we might say. But when you look at the idolatry in the NT – or in the Bible as a whole – there is one key similarity that cannot be ignored: Instead of our hearts being rendered to God, we render them to created things.

It’s tough to break these idols, too. Israel clearly had a problem with it in the OT. But there’s yet another benefiting to believing in one God (beyond a shorter contact list): No matter what you’re doing or where you’re at, God is there with you. It’s the same God who was with you when you woke up, when you ate breakfast, when you honked your horn at the old lady driving the opposite way on a one-way, when you got to work, when you went to the store, and when you opened a bottle beer to watch TV with your friends or family. Why is it a big deal that it’s one God who’s with us everywhere we go? Because no matter what or where, we know that it’s something God put together for us to enjoy. We know that it may not always be there, so we can thank God for the act of giving it to us. We can worship this one God, Yahweh, in every small detail of our lives.

I think that’s something worth being crazy about.

God bless.

Ehrman’s Error…

My first experience with Bart Ehrman actually proved more positive than negative. Reading through Misquoting Jesus gave me a much different and brutally-honest perspective of the Biblical manuscripts we have – such a perspective that compelled me to dive much deeper into the study of Scripture. After reading Misquoting, I turned to his text book, A Brief Introduction to the New Testament, and received an even deeper education into the formulation of each book of the New Testament. In comparison to Misquoting, Ehrman’s text book was also much more balanced.

As a recent post of mine makes clear, inerrancy is not an essential doctrine for my faith in God and His Son, Jesus Christ. In fact, if anything, it dilutes Scripture for me – dulling it down to a mere book on doctrine and systematic theology rather than a unique, inspirational text that interacts with the divine God, Yahweh. From this standpoint, I gravitated (at least initially) towards Ehrman’s approach much easier than many of my friends might. But after reading the first chapter of his most recent book, Forged, I must say that Bart Ehrman has gone off his rocker.

If you’re unfamiliar with Ehrman, he’s gained much publicity for his controversial books: Misquoting Jesus; Jesus, Interrupted; God’s Problem; and finally Forged. While I haven’t read either Jesus, Interrupted or God’s Problem, I could easily detect throughout Misquoting an undertone of cynicism and bitterness towards Christianity. I detect an even more intense undertone in Forged. But that’s beside the point. What really ticked me off was certain moments in his new book where he’d mention something in passing that was completely subjective, but yet he wouldn’t back up his claim with the evidence. The premise of this new book is to see how the New Testament books were all (or at least mostly) deliberately forged by other names and not the names the books claim to. He claims “objectivity,” but fails to recognize his conclusions are completely subjective.

Ehrman does admit that this new book is not a thorough study of ancient forgeries. Be that as it may, as a “layperson,” I want evidence. If you’re going to make a claim such as “[W]e know of over a hundred writings from the first four centuries that were claimed by one Christian author or another to have been forged by fellow Christians,” you better have the objective evidence – that is, evidence not stilted by one’s own personal agendas when reading the text – to back it up. I personally believe that pure, untainted objectivity is extremely unlikely, bordering impossible. There always seems to be some deep root of subjectivity that has a major influence on how we read texts and formulate opinions. In a paper for one of my English classes, I called this natural-subjectivity our “literary goggles.” We all have them. Some are more obvious than others; while some are less. Ehrman’s literary goggles are laid out flat on the table in his introduction.

I really became frustrated with this book when I came across page 22. Ehrman says in passing, “The book of Hebrews was particularly debated; the book does not explicitly claim to be written by Paul, but there are hints at the end that the author wants readers to think that he’s Paul (13:22-25),” but does not back up this passing claim with any evidence nor does he refer to a later chapter where he might. And if you actually look up the passage in Hebrews, one is not clearly driven to Ehrman’s conclusions:

“I appeal to you, brothers, bear with my word of exhortation, for I have written to you briefly. You should know that our brother Timothy has been released, with whom I shall see you if he comes soon. Greet all your leaders and all the saints. Those who come from Italy send you greetings. Grace be with all of you.”

Pauline language? Yes. Author’s attempt at deceiving you? No – at least not “objectively” as Ehrman claims. It could well be a common way of communities writing back and forth. And, as Ehrman implies (he likes the word “intimate,” which basically means “imply”) in Misquoting, for all we know it could have been a later scribe thinking it was a Pauline letter and therefore added in something that would suggest it as so. It does not decisively mean the author of Hebrews was intending to mislead his audience. Not even close.

What really gets under my skin from this book is his self-contradiction at the end of chapter one. Presenting his case as seemingly-objective as possible, he then ends the chapter with this: “We simply can’t peer into their hearts and minds to see what they were thinking, deep down, when they decided to hide their own identity and to claim, deceitfully, that they were someone else,” (42). But wait a minute, if “[w]e simply can’t peer into their hearts and minds,” then how do we know they were deliberately being deceptive? How do we know that they intended to deceive their readers?

What Ehrman fails to acknowledge to the “layperson” is that the arguments and debates are much bigger than how he presents it. In discussing Ehrman two days ago, Dr. Falk (my favorite professor) said, “He’s still a fundamentalist – just from the other side. And he doesn’t seem to acknowledge it.”

Erhman’s error simply is making a strongly-subjective claim in the name of objectivity. As he says, we can never know what the New Testament authors intended with their writing. For all we know, they could be the names written on the cover. And even if they happen not to be, there isn’t conclusive, objective evidence to show they deliberately intended to deceive their readers for their own agendas. Ehrman cheats the “layperson” by not presenting the full argument; there are many more elements that go into textual criticism than what he has presented thus far. I may pull back my words a little as I read, but right now, I doubt it. Bart Ehrman has gone against what is true to authentic scholarship – even his own scholarship. His literary goggles have begun to blind him.