What are my thoughts on this debate? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.
I have been recovering from a sickness and I’m still at home so yesterday after watching my church service, I decided to also watch the Ehrman/Price debate that was held before Mythicist Milwuakee. This is probably the first debate where I was ever on the side of Ehrman. While in many areas like politics and abortion I side with Price, in this area, being the existence of Jesus, I side with Ehrman.
However, this debate brought out to me the multitude of problems both sides have. Let’s start with mythicism. Mythicism is a ridiculous proposition from the get-go. There is a reason the scholarly academy has rejected it over and over and over again. I generally refer to mythicism as a conspiracy theory for atheists. When I meet someone who espouses it seriously, I know to not take them seriously. By that, I mean someone who argues it thinking it is true. I would have no problem with an atheist saying “I just don’t understand why no one would write about Jesus if He was such a miracle-working figure and I would like to know,” and assuming that is an honest question, I would be glad to answer it. (Such an answer can be found here.)
Most atheists are no like this. These are people who think they know better than the entire academy. Note that these same people will mock young-Earth creationists for doing the same thing with evolution. I am not a young-Earth creationism, but I can understand that at least they interpret a text that they regard as holy and think God has said in the text that the Earth is young.
However, I think Ehrman and Price both have a problem with who Jesus is. Ehrman will clearly say in the debate several times that he does not believe Jesus did anything miraculous whatsoever. He’s interested in defending the historical Jesus and surely the historical Jesus never did anything like that.
This leads me to ask the question of where these miracle accounts came from. Ehrman rightly says that we need to get past Albert Schweitzer who talked about an event like the feeding of the 5,000. The scholars of his day said one person brought out his lunch and then others did and Jesus encouraged everyone to share and it eventually became the miracle account. Schweitzer thought all of these accounts were ridiculous and strongly argued that.
I agree, but I still want to know where the miracles came from. Now the answer could be “Well, they needed to build up Jesus since He was their Messiah.” Okay. Well, that makes sense, except for one question. Why was Jesus chosen to be the Messiah?
It is absolutely certain that Jesus was crucified. Aside from the mythicists, you won’t find anyone denying that. What sense does it make to take a crucified man and say “He’s the Messiah!” The last time I asked this to someone, I was told it was because of prophecy. Okay. Can you show me who was interpreting Isaiah 53 this way? I know that rightly or wrongly, Christians today do that, but were Jews doing that and even if they were, why choose this man instead of anyone else?
We could go further and ask “What did Jesus do that got Him crucified?” I remember years ago reading Five Views on the Historical Jesus where John Dominic Crossan had a chapter and in his, Jesus saw His cousin John the Baptist get killed so Jesus went on a much kinder streak then and spoke about the love of God and the brotherhood of men. That might not be an exact quote, but it is the general idea.
I kept thinking the same thing reading it. “This Jesus does not get crucified. You do not get crucified for being Mr. Rogers. This Jesus is not a threat to anyone.”
This is why Jesus is really the most difficult figure in history to explain. The basic facts about Him are the biggest problems. Why was He crucified? Why did He have a reputation as a miracle-worker and exorcist? (Note. That is not saying He was those, though I think He was, but it is accepted He had that reputation.)
Most Biblical scholars I am sure agree that the ethic of Jesus is excellent. Why then crucify a teacher who had such a great ethic? What about the cleansing of the temple? That’s one that is generally accepted to have happened.
Now we have to ask the question. Why did He do that? Was that also alone sufficient? Could Jesus not have just been seen as a madman? You don’t crucify someone for being insane. Jesus had to have some kind of movement to get even that going, on especially since he had twelve disciples which is also accepted. Why?
The idea of this Jesus that someone like Ehrman has comes loaded with questions. Why was He proclaimed Messiah? Why was He declared to be risen from the dead? Why was He crucified? Where did these miracle stories come from and how did they overcome the “true” accounts so quickly?
I really have hopes that as things go along, New Testament scholarship of the secular sort will find itself pushed into a corner more and more. The ideas conceded today would not have been the ones done fifty years ago. The questions I am asking also I consider basic. Why? Jesus was crucified? Why? Jesus has a reputation of doing miracles? Why?
Of course, I think Jesus did the miracles, but I think historical Jesus research has a problem if we show up and say at the outset “Well we know Jesus didn’t do any miracles.” If that is from a position you have not argued for, why should I think that? If the historical Jesus did do miracles, you have a method that has ruled out the truth from the outset.
Now suppose you are a philosophically-minded historian who says “These are the problems I have with theism and why I think atheism is true.” Okay. You at least have a basis for your skepticism, Even then, you should still be able to say, “But if there is enough evidence for the miracles in the Gospels, I will be open to changing my opinion.”
Years ago Chesteron said that the believer in the miracle believes in the miracle, rightly or wrongly, because of the evidence. The skeptic disbelieves, rightly or wrongly, because he has a dogma against them. I find that still to be entirely accurate. As a theist, you could eliminate every miracle out there and God would still exist. (Christianity would be false, but atheism is not necessarily true.) It could be that God exists and just hasn’t done any miracles.
For the atheist, however, grant one miracle and something happening outside of the materialistic chain of events, and there is a problem. There is much more at stake. Take a book like Keener’s “Miracles” and every single miracle in there has to be shown to be false.
In the end then, Price’s position is completely untenable, but is Ehrman any better off. I have several questions about his Jesus as well. Now if Price wants to go with something like “Well one person shared his lunch and that’s how the miracle story of the feeding of the 5,000 came about”, I don’t find that plausible, but it’s at least an attempt to find an answer. Oddly enough, at least mythicism recognizes the problem there.
As someone who thinks about these issues, I do ask these questions. Every position of Jesus has questions to answer, but I really find the orthodox view of Jesus has the best explanatory power of the data. All others are wiling to try, but for now, I will stick with the Jesus I find the most likely to be the world changer that there is today.
(And I affirm the virgin birth)