, 17 tweets, 4 min read
Some brief thoughts on @DrPJWilliams' recent @UnbelievableJB debate with @BartEhrman.

I've listened to the debate two times now, and found it to be quite fascinating. Both debate partners were eloquent and their differences were clearly laid out.
• On methodological approaches:

Ehrman took Pete to task on the issue of theological presuppositions. The issue is the question of ultimate authorities. On what basis should the Scriptures be believed? If they are from God, then they ought to be trusted on their own authority.
Modern critical scholarship attempts to do history with documents that purport to come from God, yet in the name of objectivity, tries to ignore this epistemological elephant in the room. It's worth quoting at length the Westminster Standards on this point.
"The authority of the holy Scripture, for which it ought to be believed and obeyed, dependeth not upon the testimony of any man or church, but wholly upon God (who is truth itself), the Author thereof; and therefore it is to be received, because it is the Word of God." (WCF 1:IV)
Is this, then, an irrational and arbitrary "fideism"?

By no means. For believers perceive in Scripture: "the heavenliness of the matter, the efficacy of the doctrine, the majesty of the style, the consent of all the parts, the scope of the whole..." (WCF 1:V)
The student of history, too, will find coherence, as Pete argues in his work "Can We Trust the Gospels?" For the Christian, however, this, I believe, is a support, not the foundation, for the entire edifice (resurrection, deity of Christ, absolute authority of Scripture, etc).
• Oral testimony:

Ehrman appears to posit a sophisticated version of the telephone game. Although he and Pete broadly agree that the gospels were written some decades after the life of Christ, he holds that the stories contained therein were passed down from person to person.
It seems, then, that he and Pete were arguing at cross purposes. Ehrman argued that incidental details in the gospels (personal names, town names, geographical details) may have been retained in oral culture, while the stories themselves were changed.
Pete, however, brought up the issue he previously addressed on Twitter (here: ) with the research of FC Bartlett. Namely, that names in oral accounts "rarely survive intact for more than a few reproductions."
Given the coherence of first century Palestinian personal names with those found in the gospels (a point which Ehrman acknowledged in passing), the way we got the stories cannot have been a long chain of oral transmission (if FC Bartlett's view is correct).
• Examples of contradictions:

Although Ehrman repeatedly mentioned "hundreds of contradictions" in the gospel accounts, he actually only discussed one, namely the account of Judas' death in Matthew and Acts. This was perhaps the most disappointing aspect of the debate.
For whatever reason, we were unable to get a clear overview of just what exactly Ehrman considered to be clear contradictions, which could receive responses from Pete.
• On Jesus as God:

Ehrman's recent views on this (found in his monograph "How Jesus Became God") are an interesting development from his earlier position. He acknowledged that *all* the gospels portray Jesus as divine, yet contrasts Johannine sayings of Jesus with the synoptics
The question I think left unaddressed, is how the synoptics came to view Jesus as divine, if this is indeed a later development. When Mark 1:2–3, for example, quotes Isaiah and Malachi, it is contextually clear that he intends to place Jesus in the place of YHWH.
This is more than Ehrman's acknowledgement that Mark viewed Jesus as "a divine being" (Ehrman's phrase). What I've found from other debates Ehrman has participated in, is that he apparently considers the claim that Jesus is YHWH to be tantamount to modalism or Sabellianism.
See, for example, his debate with Justin Bass (reviewed here: credohouse.org/blog/who-is-th…). For all the gospel writers, Jesus IS seen as YHWH, and this can be readily demonstrated. The simplest, most economical explanation is that this was also Christ's own view of himself.
I'm thankful for the #Unbelievable programme that fosters dialogues like these. Thanks to both of the participants for a lively debate, and especially to @DrPJWilliams for his clear affirmation of the veracity of Scripture in all points when repeatedly pressed by Bart Ehrman.
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