An Evaluation of Bart Ehrman’s “Historical Jesus” -- By: Dennis Ingolfsland

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 158:630 (Apr 2001)
Article: An Evaluation of Bart Ehrman’s “Historical Jesus”
Author: Dennis Ingolfsland

An Evaluation of Bart Ehrman’s “Historical Jesus”

Dennis Ingolfsland

[Dennis Ingolfsland is Associate Professor of Bible, Bryan College, Dayton, Tennessee.]

Bart Ehrman, professor of religious studies, Hellenistic religion, and New Testament at the University of North Carolina, has recently published Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium.1 In this book he presents his methods and conclusions regarding the historical Jesus, using three primary criteria for ascertaining which of Jesus’ sayings and actions recorded in the New Testament are authentic: independent attestation, dissimilarity, and contextual credibility.2

Independent attestation occurs when two or more independent sources attest to the same event or saying. If source A copied, summarized, or even alluded to source B in a specific event, the two sources would not be considered independent attestations for that event.

The criterion of dissimilarity, according to Ehrman, states that if a saying of Jesus recorded in a particular Gospel is dissimilar to what other Christians were saying about Jesus when that Gospel was written, the saying is more likely to be genuine. Similarly, if a saying does not support a Christian agenda, or if it appears to work against a Christian agenda, it is more likely to be genuine.

The criterion of contextual credibility asserts that traditions are more likely to be reliable if they conform well to what is known

of the historical and social situation of the time.3

According to Ehrman, when these criteria are applied to the study of Jesus, the following picture emerges: Jesus was a Jewish apocalyptic prophet whose message centered on a future kingdom of God that would be free of poverty and oppression. Jesus taught His followers to seek this kingdom above all else and to behave now as they would in the kingdom. This meant not only loving God above all else but also loving one’s neighbor and even one’s enemies. Jesus spoke of a coming judgment on the religious leaders of His day, and this is what led to His execution.

While many aspects of Ehrman’s presentation of Jesus make good sense of the biblical data—for example the importance of loving God and others, Jesus’ preaching of a future kingdom in which there will be no oppression, and the preaching of a future judgment, he has not adequately dealt with the issue of Jesus’ self-understanding.

On the other hand Ben Witherington...

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