Where Bart and I Agree

I am republishing Jimmy Akin’s post found here: Where Bart and I Agree .

Despite his reputation as a Gospel skeptic, Bart Ehrman holds that the Gospels do contain accurate information about Jesus, his life, and his teachings.

Speaking as a secular historian, Ehrman does not hold that any historical document can give us certainty about what happened, but he does hold that they can establish a probability—and sometimes a very high probability.

Here are some things Ehrman thinks the Gospels are probably right about, followed by a quotation documenting this in his own words.

The quotations are drawn principally from chapters 8 and 9 of his book Did Jesus Exist?

I don’t agree with the reasoning or interpretation that Bart gives in each of these quotations, but I do agree that the Gospels are right about the bulleted claims.

Gospel Claims:

  • Jesus existed
  • Jesus was a Jew
  • Jesus was teacher
  • Jesus lived in 1st century
  • Jesus lived in Roman Palestine
  • Jesus was crucified under Pontius Pilate

“We have seen that these sources are more than ample to establish that Jesus was a Jewish teacher of first-century Roman Palestine who was crucified under Pontius Pilate” (p. 268).

  • Jesus came from northern Palestine (Nazareth)
  • Jesus was an adult in the A.D. 20s
  • Jesus was connected with John the Baptist
  • Jesus later became a preacher and teacher to Jews in rural Galilee
  • Jesus preached about “the kingdom of God”
  • Jesus told parables
  • Jesus gathered disciples
  • Jesus developed a reputation for healings and exorcisms
  • Around A.D. 30, Jesus went to Jerusalem for Passover
  • During this trip, he aroused opposition among local Jewish leaders
  • The Jewish leaders in Jerusalem had him tried before Pontius Pilate
  • Pilate had Jesus crucified
  • Pilate had him crucified for calling himself “the king of the Jews”

“Everyone, except the mythicists, of course, agrees that Jesus was a Jew who came from northern Palestine (Nazareth) and lived as an adult in the 20s of the Common Era. He was at one point of his life a follower of John the Baptist and then became a preacher and teacher to the Jews in the rural areas of Galilee. He preached a message about the “kingdom of God” and did so by telling parables. He gathered disciples and developed a reputation for being able to heal the sick and cast out demons. At the very end of his life, probably around 30 CE, he made a trip to Jerusalem during a Passover feast and roused opposition among the local Jewish leaders, who arranged to have him put on trial before Pontius Pilate, who ordered him to be crucified for calling himself the king of the Jews” (Did Jesus Exist?, p. 269).

  • Jesus was baptized at the beginning of his public ministry
  • Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist

“There is little doubt how Jesus began his public ministry. He was baptized by John the Baptist. . . . The reason we have stories in which Jesus was baptized by John is that this is a historically reliable datum. He really was baptized by John, as attested in multiple independent sources” (p. 302).

  • John the Baptist preached an apocalyptic message of coming destruction and salvation

“John the Baptist is known to have preached an apocalyptic message of coming destruction and salvation” (pp. 302-303).

  • Jesus agreed with John the Baptist’s message

“Of all the options, he chose John the Baptist. This must mean that he agreed with the particular message John was proclaiming” (p. 303).

  • Jesus’ apocalyptic message focused on the kingdom of God

“Jesus’s apocalyptic message focused on the coming kingdom of God. The first words he is recorded as saying set the tone for much of his public proclamation: ‘The time has been fulfilled and the kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news’” (Mark 1:15)” (p. 305).

  • Jesus said the kingdom would be brought about by “the Son of Man”—a cosmic judge

“This future kingdom would be brought by a cosmic judge whom Jesus called the Son of Man” (p. 305).

  • Jesus taught a coming reversal of fortunes—the exalted being humbled and the humble exalted

“One of Jesus’s characteristic teachings is that there will be a massive reversal of fortunes when the end comes. Those who are rich and powerful now will be humbled then; those who are lowly and oppressed now will then be exalted” (p. 307).

  • Jesus didn’t think you needed to scrupulously observe the Mosaic Law
  • Jesus did not interpret the Sabbath command the way Pharisees did

“Unlike certain Pharisees, Jesus did not think that what really mattered before God was the scrupulous observance of the laws in all their details. Going out of one’s way to avoid doing anything questionable on the Sabbath was of very little importance to him” (p. 310).

  • Jesus did not understand Temple worship and sacrifices the way Sadducees did

“Unlike some Sadducees, Jesus did not think that it was of the utmost importance to adhere strictly to the rules for worship in the Temple through the divinely ordained sacrifices” (p. 310).

  • Jesus did not think people should isolate themselves to maintain ritual purity

“Unlike some Essenes, he did not think that people should seek to maintain their own ritual purity in isolation from others in order to find God’s ultimate approval. As we will see in a moment, his reputation was tarnished among people like this, as he associated precisely with the impure” (p. 310).

  • Jesus believed the heart of the Mosaic Law was love of God and love of neighbor

“What did matter for Jesus—as for some other Jews from his time about whom we are less well informed (see, for example, Mark 12:32–34)—were the commandments of God that formed, in his opinion, the very heart of the Law. These were the commandments to love God above all else (as in Deuteronomy 4:4–6) and to love one’s neighbor as oneself (as in Leviticus 19:18)” (pp. 310-311).

  • Jesus believed the way to attain the kingdom was love of God and neighbor

“The way to attain the kingdom, for Jesus, was by following the heart of the Law, which was the requirement to love God above all else and to love other people as much as (or in the same way as) one loved oneself” (p. 311).

  • The Gospels preserve Jesus’ sayings in the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats

“The sayings of the passage [i.e., Matt. 25:31-46—the parable of the sheep and the goats] probably go back to Jesus” (p. 313).

  • Jesus was a moral teacher

“Jesus is often thought of as a great moral teacher, and I think that is right” (p. 313).

  • Jesus said the kingdom of God has already begun

“Jesus insisted that in a small way, the kingdom of God was already present, in the here and now. This does not contradict the view that it would come with the arrival of the Son of Man. It is instead an extension of Jesus’s teaching about the future kingdom” (p. 314).

  • Religious leaders mocked Jesus for hanging out with lowlifes rather than the pious

“Other religious leaders apparently mocked him for preferring the company of lowlifes to that of the pious and upright” (p. 317).

  • Jesus associated with tax collectors and sinners

“Unlike other religious leaders—say, from among the Pharisees, Sadducees, or Essenes—Jesus associated with such people [i.e., tax collectors and sinners]” (p. 317).

  • Jesus had an inner circle of 12 disciples
  • Jesus handpicked the 12

“One group that Jesus associated with in particular was the “twelve,” an inner circle of disciples who were evidently handpicked by Jesus. The existence of this group of twelve is extremely well attested in our early sources” (p. 318).

  • Jesus told the 12 they would sit on 12 thrones, judging the 12 tribes of Israel

“There is one saying of Jesus involving the twelve that almost certainly passes the criterion of dissimilarity. This is the Q saying I mentioned earlier, given in Matthew as follows: ‘Truly I say to you, that you who have followed me, in the new world, when the Son of Man is sitting on the throne of his glory, you will be seated—even you—on twelve thrones ruling the twelve tribes of Israel’ (Matthew 19:28). That this saying probably goes back to Jesus himself is suggested by the fact that it is delivered to all twelve disciples, including, of course, Judas Iscariot” (p. 318).

  • Jesus privately taught the 12 he was the Messiah, the king of the coming kingdom

“What this means is that Jesus probably taught his closest followers that he would be the king of the coming kingdom of God. In other words, at least to those of his inner circle, Jesus appears to have proclaimed that he really was the future messiah, not in the sense that he would raise an army to drive out the Romans, but in the sense that when the Son of Man brought the kingdom to earth, he, Jesus, would be anointed its ruler” (p. 319).

  • Jesus had regular conflict with other Jewish teachers

“It is thoroughly attested throughout our early traditions that Jesus was in constant conflict with other Jewish teachers of his day” (p. 319).

  • Jesus had conflict with members of his own family
  • Jesus spoke of leaving one’s family for the sake of the kingdom

“Jesus appears to have opposed the idea of the family and to have been in conflict with members of his own family. This opposition to family, we will see, is rooted in Jesus’s apocalyptic proclamation. Jesus’s opposition to the family unit is made clear in his requirement that his followers leave home for the sake of the coming kingdom. Doing so would earn them a reward [see Mark 10:29-31]” (p. 320).

“By leaving their families high and dry, they almost certainly created enormous hardship, possibly even starvation. But it was worth it, in Jesus’s view. The kingdom demanded it. No family tie was more important than the kingdom; siblings, spouses, and children were of no importance in comparison” (p. 321).

  • Some members of Jesus’ family didn’t believe him during his public ministry

“[T]here are clear signs not only that Jesus’s family rejected his message during his public ministry” (p. 321).

  • Jesus predicted the destruction of the Temple

“In addition to being opposed to other Jewish leaders and to the institution of the family, Jesus is portrayed in our early traditions as being in severe opposition to one of the central institutions of Jewish religious life, the Temple in Jerusalem. Throughout our Gospel traditions we find multiple, independent declarations on the lips of Jesus that the Temple will be destroyed in a divine act of judgment” (p. 322).

“If, as seems likely, Jesus predicted the destruction of the Temple in the coming judgment, he may have overturned the tables and caused a ruckus as a kind of enacted parable of his apocalyptic message” (p. 327).

  • Jesus spent much of his preaching ministry in Galilee
  • At the end of his ministry, Jesus went to Jerusalem for Passover
  • There, he also proclaimed his message

“In the synoptic Gospels, Jesus spends his entire preaching ministry in Galilee, and then during the last week of his life he makes a pilgrimage to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover feast. This is completely plausible, historically” (p. 325).

“After taking his message around the countryside of his homeland, Galilee, he came to Jerusalem, also to proclaim his message, as our Gospels agree in saying he did, once he arrived in the city” (p. 325).

  • Jesus caused a disturbance in the Temple

“But Jesus may well have caused a small disturbance there [the Temple], as is multiply attested (Mark and John) since this tradition coincides so well with his proclamations about the corruption of the Temple and its coming destruction” (p. 326).

  • Jesus objected to the money changing and selling animals in the Temple
  • Jesus reacted violently and overturned tables

“Jesus apparently took umbrage at the operation [of selling changing money and selling animals at the temple] and reacted violently to it” (p. 327).

“If, as seems likely, Jesus predicted the destruction of the Temple in the coming judgment, he may have overturned the tables and caused a ruckus as a kind of enacted parable of his apocalyptic message” (p. 327).

  • Jesus was betrayed to the Jewish authorities by one of his followers
  • This follower was Judas Iscariot
  • Jewish authorities handed Jesus over to Pilate
  • Pilate was in Jerusalem at the time
  • Pilate gave Jesus a brief trial
  • Pilate ordered Jesus crucified

“What we can say is that Jesus was probably betrayed to the Jewish authorities by one of his own followers; these authorities delivered him over to the Roman governor, Pilate, who was in town to keep the peace during the festival; after what was almost certainly a rather brief trial, Pilate ordered him crucified. All of these data make sense when seen in light of Jesus’s apocalyptic proclamation” (p. 327-328).

“There are solid reasons for thinking that Jesus really was betrayed by one of his own followers, Judas Iscariot” (p. 328).

  • Jesus came to Jerusalem a week before Passover

“The early accounts of Matthew, Mark, and Luke agree that Jesus came to Jerusalem a week before the Passover itself. This makes sense, as it was customary: one needed to go through certain rituals of purification before celebrating the festival, and that required attendance in the Temple a week in advance” (p. 328).

  • After the incident at the Temple, Jesus suspected his time was up

“It is not implausible, however, to think that Jesus suspected that his time was up. It does not take a revelation from God to realize what happens when one speaks out violently against the ruling authorities in this kind of inflammatory context, and there was a long history of Jewish prophets having met their demise for crossing the lines of civil discourse” (p. 328).

  • Jesus believed he was the king of the Jews
  • Jesus did not proclaim this openly

“What is very strange about the Gospel stories of Jesus’s death is that Pilate condemns him to crucifixion for calling himself the king of the Jews. This is multiply attested in all the traditions, and it passes the criterion of dissimilarity because this is not a title that, so far as we can tell, the early Christians ever used of Jesus. His followers called him the Son of God, the Son of Man, the Lord, the messiah, and lots of other things but not, in the New Testament at least, the king of the Jews. And so they would not have made that up as the charge against him, which means that it appears really to have been the crime” (p. 329).

“There I suggested that just as Jesus was the master of the twelve now, in this age, so too he would be their master then, in the age to come. That is to say, that he would be the future king of the coming kingdom. This is not something that he openly proclaimed, so far as we can tell. But it does appear to be what he taught his disciples” (pp. 329-330).

  • The Jewish authorities didn’t simply try Jesus by their own law
  • The Jewish authorities handed Jesus over to Pilate

“What is clear is that the Jewish authorities did not try Jesus according to Jewish law but instead handed him over to Pilate” (p. 330).

  • Jesus did not understand his kingship as a worldly, political one

“He was claiming an office that was not his to claim, and for him to assume the role of king he would first need to overthrow the Romans themselves. Jesus, of course, did not understand his kingship in this way” (pp. 330-331).

  • When asked if he was king of the Jews, he either answered ambiguously or in the affirmative

“Jesus could hardly deny that he was the king of the Jews. He thought he was. So he either refused to answer the charge or answered it in the affirmative” (p. 331).

  • Judas existed
  • Judas betrayed Jesus to the authorities
  • Judas died an untimely death
  • Judas’ death was connected to a field in Jerusalem

“I think there really was a Judas. I think that he really did betray Jesus to the authorities, and I think he probably came to some kind of untimely death that was somehow connected with a field in Jerusalem” (Unbelievable? podcast; source).

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