Lydia McGrew reviews a recent debate with Bart Ehrman, and argues that Bible scholar Peter J Williams offers a model for dispensing common sense – The Right Way to Debate Bart Ehrman
The hallmark of Williams’ responses to Ehrman was his use of common sense, both in presenting his own case and in responding to Ehrman’s objections. Williams’ case for the reliability of the Gospels in this debate is based in part upon a compendium of fascinating external confirmations, such as name statistics, measurements, and topography. Pace Ehrman, these small details do constitute evidence that, as Williams says in his book Can We Trust the Gospels?, the authors knew their stuff. The small, difficult things that the evangelists get right are all the more impressive given the major upheavals in social customs and culture in Palestine, and the dispersal of the inhabitants, after the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70…
This emphasis on details is highly relevant to Ehrman’s attempts to characterize the Gospels as unreliable because they were, he says, written at multiple removes from the events they describe and hence corrupted over time by a “telephone game” process of transmission. In making this argument Ehrman repeatedly tries to emphasize the fact that the Gospels were written down several decades after their events. Williams rightly counters by pointing out that the Gospels do not have specific dates on them and that we should look at the evidences within them of their coming from those close to the events. Even though Luke, for example, was not an eyewitness of Jesus’ ministry, it does not follow that Luke recorded stories that had been repeated many times as in the telephone game–a point Ehrman repeatedly ignores. Continue reading “Peter Williams Shows the Right Way to Debate Bart Ehrman”
Ehrman’s Equivocation and the Inerrancy of the Original Text
Peter Williams did well in his recent debate with Bart Ehrman [Unbelievable? Peter J Williams and Bart Ehrman – Are the Gospels historically reliable?] although I wish he were more aggressive and forcefully challenged Ehrman’s presuppositions of secular historiography. Yes, Ehrman is a world-class expert in textual criticism, but he is a biased secular historian pretending to write objective history of Christianity. His competency in theology certainly lags behind his expertise as a textual critic.
Evangelical theologians have not done as well in their debates with Ehrman because they allow Ehrman to dictate the terms of the debates. Ehrman always insists that he will only answer questions on history and not theology whenever his opponent raises an issue which would require value judgment (theological judgment). But in truth, Ehrman is constantly making value judgments in his interpretation of the historical data based on his secular presuppositions. His opponents should remind him of the hermeneutical principle framed by the great scholar Rudolph Bultmann that “no exegesis is without presuppositions, inasmuch as the exegete is not a tabula rasa but on the contrary, approaches the text with specific questions or with a specific way of asking questions and thus has a certain idea of the subject matter with which the text is concerned.” In reality, Ehrman is doing history with unacknowledged theological presuppositions all the time as he accepts as relevant historical data only what fits his presumed epistemological framework. Proceeding with this restrictive and skeptical mindset, it is not surprising that Ehrman excels in his role as a spoiler rather than as a scholar offering constructive history of Christian origins. Ehrman’s opponents should call his bluff to be an objective historian when they debate with him. Continue reading “Why Affirm Biblical Inerrancy and Ignore Missing Original Manuscripts and Other Errors? Part 2: Debating with Bart Ehrman”
Sadly, it is no longer a surprise for Malaysians to come across pastors and seminarians who reject the historic doctrine of biblical inerrancy. The two common reasons given for rejecting inerrancy are (1) we cannot ignore the historical errors or discrepancies found in the Bible. Examples of discrepancies include the confused sequence of events describing Jesus’ healing of blind Bartimaeus, the death of Judas, Jesus’ cleansing of the Temple and Luke’s ‘erroneous’ dating of the Roman census at the time when Quirinius was the governor of Syria etc. and (2) we do not have the original manuscripts of the Bible. All that we have today are flawed copies.
(1) Alleged historical errors
These alleged discrepancies are straw men. We may conclude that the biblical text is in error only if we can demonstrate that it is in conflict with clear and unambiguous evidence given in other reliable historical sources. However, the evidence from the extra-biblical sources remains inconclusive and its interpretation is disputed among scholars. There is no necessity to presume that the biblical sources must be in error just because we are presently unable to integrate seamlessly the biblical accounts with other historical accounts. In instances where there is controversy among scholars (e.g. the conquest of Canaan by Joshua), there is room to maintain an agnostic position in the details, pending further information gleaned from more archaeological research and historical investigation. Continue reading “Why Affirm Biblical Inerrancy and Ignore Missing Original Manuscripts and Other Errors?”
Protestant devotional literature was once well-served by popular writers like E. Stanley Jones, Eugene Peterson, Philip Yancey, Gordon MacDonald & J Oswald Sanders but today they are fading from the scene. The writers who are taking their place are eclectic in their approach to “spirituality.” Some are inspired by writers like Thomas Merton, Henri Nouwen and Jean Vanier who wrote from the tradition of Roman Catholic spiritual theology while others betray traces of New Age spirituality. Not surprisingly, the word “spirituality” has also proven to be an amorphous catch-all word. Nowadays, a lot of what goes as Christian spirituality is actually some form of syncretism mixed with disturbing and unorthodox theology (e.g. Richard Rohr). But to be fair we need to judge modern spirituality writers on a case by case basis. For example, the rediscovery of “spiritual disciplines” (c.f. Roger Forster & Dallas Willard) has been helpful to Protestants looking for “handles” as well as a map of spiritual progress in their devotional exercises & spiritual formation. Continue reading ““Old Wine” Spirituality Remains the Best”
Modern philosophy, which began with Descartes, is premised on the idea that objective knowledge is possible only if the cognitive agent first separates himself mentally from the external world around him. Kant reinforced the separation when he postulated a dichotomy between the phenomenal order (things as empirically observed) and the noumenal order (things-in-themselves) in order to give room for human freedom in a world determined by fundamental laws of nature. That is to say, both human knowledge and human freedom entail a flight from nature. The resulting loss of vital connection between man as knowing subject and the world of nature is one of the causes of human disregard of the environment today.
In contrast, the Bible upholds nature, or creation, as the theatre where knowledge of God is revealed. It acknowledges that God is transcendent but he reveals himself through his mighty works of creation, providence and redemption. T. F. Torrance emphasizes that our knowledge of God is mediated to us in and through this world as the sphere of his activity toward us. Torrance writes, “We know God, then, in such a way that our knowledge (theologia nostra) is correlated with the world as his creation and the appointed medium of his self-revelation and self-communication to mankind. Everything would go wrong if the creaturely reality of this world were confused with or mistaken for the uncreated Reality of God, or if knowledge of God were cut off from the fact that it is our knowledge, that is, knowledge of God by us in this world.” /1/ Continue reading “Reclaiming and Renewing Creation”