Book Plunge: Jesus – Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium

Did Jesus fail at prophecy? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

Just yesterday, I finished reading Bart Ehrman’s “Jesus – Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium.” Before I had even started the book, I made a prediction on Facebook. I predicted, as an orthodox Preterist, that not once would Ehrman mention Preterism in his book.

Turns out, I was right.

Makes me wish I’d made a bet with someone….

Honestly, I don’t even think he mentioned dispensationalism or any form of futurism by name. Christian eschatological systems were absent, which is quite odd. It’s why I found this book to be quite a mixed bag. Of course, there’s the usual material about historical methodology, which is fine, but yet while there was much talk about apocalyptic thinking, there was not much looking at apocalyptic thinking.

At the start, Ehrman wants to paint a string of predictions from our time down to Christianity. He first starts with Edgar Whisenant and then Hal Lindsey. Next we go to the Millerites. Then, it’s Joachim of Fiore around 1200. After that, Montanus at the end of the second century. From this, Ehrman concludes every generation has had its own apocalyptic visionary.

Could be, but looking at such a sparse sample in 2,000 years does not show it. It gives the impression that Ehrman has looked at a sparse sample and made a strong conclusion based on it. Of course, his case could be correct still, but the problem is that there was not sufficient evidence given.

Of course, for Ehrman, the first examples of this were Jesus and Paul. So does he make that case well?

Before making his case, Ehrman wants to tell us about the historical method and how he studies the text. It’s at this point that those who read Ehrman frequently, like I do, start to hear repetition going on. If you have read one Ehrman book, you have read all of them essentially. You’ll find the same themes and the same arguments, a number of times they’re even quoted verbatim. (I checked. pages 114-115 quote much of page 241 in the third edition of his NT introduction word for word. Of course, it could be I’m just mistaken and both times he copied from an E document….)

Of course, when reading a book like this, it’s important to note the concessions he makes that most internet atheists would run in terror from. For instance, on page 22, he says the best sources, of course, are those nearest the time of Jesus Himself.” He then says “It turns out, as I’ll show later, that the oldest narrative accounts happen to be the four Gospels of the New Testament.”

Interestingly, when talking about the authorship of the NT, he says on page 43 that the tradition from Papias needs to be considered seriously. Apparently, it wasn’t serious enough that students reading the NT introduction needed to consider it. Ehrman also makes the statement about how Eusebius thought Papias was a man of exceedingly small intelligence, not mentioning that Eusebius said this because of Papias’s views on eschatology.

Ehrman tells us the testimony is 100 years later and looks suspicious. Why? We are told that Irenaeus would want apostolic origins for the gospels. Then why have Matthew, Mark and Luke? Matthew was an apostle, but he certainly wasn’t the most famous one of all! If you’re making up an apostolic name, why not Peter or James? Why would you have Mark be the author of a text instead of just saying Peter? Why would you choose Luke?

And of course, a more fundamental question, when is the source for the claim that Plutarch wrote the works of Plutarch? For all of Ehrman’s suspicions, it is appropriate to just ask the question of other historical accounts of the time that we accept on much less evidence.

Ehrman makes the claim about bias we’ve seen often. On page 89 we read, “Whenever you isolate an author’s biases, you can take them into account when considering his report. That is to say, statements supporting his bias should then be taken with a pound of salt (not necessarily discarded, but scrutinized carefully.)”

Can I not look at this and claim “I’ve seen Ehrman’s bias. He’s a non-Christian wanting to argue for the unreliability of the biblical account. Therefore, I should take his claims with a pound of salt.” Of course, someone could take the same approach with a Christian author. My contention at this point is simply that bias is often an excuse.

Bias can make people color reports, but it can also lead to increased accuracy. Holocaust museums ran by Jews are quite accurate. Does anyone want to deny that they have a bias? Is there any doubt the NT authors had a bias? None whatsoever. Yet how does that lead to the conclusion they would make inaccurate reports? It’s just as arguable that they would realize the importance of their mission and how essential the claims were and want to make doubly sure they were accurate.

On page 195, Ehrman writes that “For events in the ancient world, even events of Earth-shattering importance, there is sometimes scant evidence to go on.” He had earlier said on page 57 that the eruption of Vesuvius was only mentioned by one author. Unsaid is that that was an off-the-cuff remark even. The purpose of the writing was not really to tell about the eruption. If this is the case, what’s the big deal with no one mentioned an empire-wide census on page 39?

When he talks about apocalypticism, he does make the case that I would make in many instances. We need to talk Jesus’s claims about a kingdom coming seriously. We need to realize what he was doing with the sermon on the mount and with miracles. We need to realize that he was showing what the kingdom of God would be like.

The problem is that Ehrman dances all around the edges without really considering what he’s arguing. For him, the end of the world did not come and the kingdom supposedly did not come and so Jesus was wrong.

If Jesus had been thinking about the end of the world, it is a wonder why he would tell people in the Olivet Discourse to flee. If the world is coming to an end, there is really not much place to flee to. Ehrman’s problem is the same one he had as a fundamentalist. Actually, he’s still a fundamentalist which is the problem. He is taking the text literally. He is assuming there must be a grand cataclysmic judgment. (Although to be fair, there was. It was the destruction of the temple, something unbelievably huge for the time.)

Could it be the Kingdom came and Ehrman didn’t realize it?

Could it be that the spreading of the Christian gospel and the name of Jesus being spread through all the Earth is the Kingdom coming? Could it be billions of people on Earth proclaiming that Jesus is Lord is showing that He is king? Could it be that the Kingdom is indeed growing as a mustard seed?

Ehrman has the same problem as he often does. He does not interact with contrary ideas. He has instead made a weak case that only depends on a literal interpretation of the text and therefore says that the case is made.

My Preterist self is not convinced.

Frankly, I’m enjoying being part of the Kingdom and especially love seeing that it demonstrates that Jesus was right.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Note: We will be discussing this book 3-5 EST on Saturday on the Deeper Waters Podcast. Why not join in?