Jesus Interrupted Book Review

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.

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David Harding is the vice-president of CNY Skeptics.

4 thoughts on “Jesus Interrupted Book Review

  1. While I support most of Ehrman’s statement you reference in your review, I was surprised that you didn’t challenge some of Ehrman’s claims that are given without substantiation. For example, “what the vast majority of biblical scholars believe”. What, quantitatively, is a “vast majority”? Does Ehrman give his sources for this statement? I am an avid fan of Ehrman and consider him to be fair and objective; however, his analysis and arguments are not inerrant. He makes claims that are nothing more that his beliefs, but he leads the reader to believe that they are held by the “vast majority” of historians and Christian scholars. His scholarship needs some upgrading in my opinion.

  2. Nathan Prophet, thank you for your comment. What Ehrman presents in Jesus, Interrupted is not his personal opinion, but what critical New Testament scholars have believe about the bible for a long time, as much as for a 100 years. Ehrman is not “inerrant,” but then again, he never claims to be. It is true that Bart Ehrman did not cite any poll about the beliefs of New Testament scholars, but is it really necessary? For example, the vast majority of scientists accept biological evolution by natural selection today, but we don’t need a poll of biologists to prove it. It’s so well documented that it is simply accepted. Now, biologists might disagree with some important things within evolution, but they don’t doubt it is real. It is similar with what Ehrman presents in his book. It is true that Ehrman does not have a lot of cites in his book, but it is intended for lay people, so it is not too surprising. However, somewhat surprising is that wikipedia does provide some good cites to more basic research, if you are interested http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_testament http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Historicity_of_Jesus#Jesus_as_a_historical_person
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Historical_Jesus#Apocalyptic_prophet

    For some examples of what the vast majority of New Testament critics believe:

    1. Jesus was an apocalypticist, i.e. someone who thought that the world would end or be radically changed forever with his generation. There are serious scholars who disagree with this, like Marcus Borg or John Dominic Crossan, but they are in the minority.

    2. Most of the books in the New Testament are pseudepigrapha, or a polite what of saying forgeries. Most people in the ancient world gave more cache to what they thought famous or illustrious people had written, which is why the writers of the New Testament often attached the names of others to their works.

    3. Parts of the New Testament were written to attack or counter what was written in other parts. Read Paul’s authentic letters, and compare them to those attributed to Paul, James or Peter. Do they agree, or do they disagree, sometimes with great vitriol? Read the synoptic gospels and compare them to the Gospel of John. Do they agree on who Jesus is?

    4. Many important doctrines to orthodox Christianity like the Trinity, the Divinity of Jesus and Heaven and Hell are simply not present in the New Testament. They are later theological developments by Christians.

    5. The New Testament is not inerrant. Where to begin? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inerrancy#Criticisms_of_biblical_inerrancy

    If you don’t agree with these things, then you ought to say why. If you want a more in depth treatment of the New Testament than what Ehrman provides in Jesus, Interrupted, I would recommend getting a good critical text book, like this one, also by Ehrman, or going to your local university, seminary or divinity school and take or audit courses about the New Testament. You won’t find anything in them that disagrees very much with what Ehrman present in Jesus, Interrupted, though.

  3. This is false, the bible has no contradictions. A great resource to read before you make any assumptions that there are contradictions is:

    http://www.bringyou.to/apologetics/bible.htm. The authors of this resource make very educated and well written arguments against any contradictions.

    I’ve recently written a book called “The Christian Behind Closed Doors.” Its about legalism in the Christian church today. You can see it here: http://www.christianbehindcloseddoors.com. Thank you.

  4. I’m not sure if the above comment is spam or not, but it is quite false regarding the bible not containing any contradictions. When was Jesus crucified, what did he say when just before he died, who visited his tomb first and what did they see, etc? The books in the new testament do not agree on these issues and are in contradiction. Only those wedded to a ideology of biblical inerrancy fail to see them and no amount of mental gymnastics will make them go away.

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