By David Harding
Many Christians in America believe that the Bible is an inerrant and thoroughly consistent book, though virtually no reputable biblical scholar has believed this for over a century. In his most recent book, Jesus, Interrupted, New Testament scholar and popularizer Bart D. Ehrman sets out to educate lay people about the contradictions in the Christian Bible, specifically in the New Testament.
Ehrman starts out by describing the historical-critical method that has dominated biblical scholarship for the last hundred and fifty years. He covers the basic contradictions and variations amongst the books of the New Testament that become obvious when one lists their order of events side by side. When was Jesus crucified? What did Jesus say on the cross before he died? Who was at his tomb when it was discovered to be empty? Who first learned of his resurrection? Who did Jesus first appear to after his resurrection? Did Paul go directly to Jerusalem after his vision of Jesus? etc, etc. Some of these contradictions are not very important, and some of them strike at the heart of people’s beliefs about Christianity.
He explains what the vast majority of biblical scholars believe about who wrote the books of the New Testament and when, how the books were selected for inclusion and the great diversity of beliefs amongst early Christians about who Jesus was and what he taught, whether they should follow the Jewish Law outlined in the Torah and even more surprising things, like how many Gods there are! Most shocking for many believers will be the fact that the New Testament is mostly silent about orthodox Christian beliefs such as the Trinity, Jesus’ divinity, and Heaven and Hell. Most of these ideas were developed by Christians well after most of the books in the New Testament were written.
In his final chapter, Ehrman explains that even if one accepts that the Bible is not internally consistent, one can still believe. Indeed, most of his fellow textual critics are Christians, though they do not subscribe to orthodox Christian beliefs. Ehrman himself is an agnostic, though he lost his faith in Christianity not through his textual criticism, but through his thinking about theodicy and the bible, the subject of an earlier book of his called God’s Problem.
The book is an easy read and Ehrman is an excellent writer, though if you have read many of Ehrman’s early books it may get a bit repetitive. Highly recommended to believer and skeptic alike.
Also of interest is an interview with Ehrman about the book.