Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Craig Evans vs. Bart Ehrman Debate: Does the New Testament Misquote Jesus? MP3 Audio

This is the March 31, 2010 debate between two prominent New Testament scholars: Dr. Dr. Craig Evans and Dr. Bart Ehrman (specific debate info and bios here) on the topic: Does the New Testament Misquote Jesus? The format revolves around 7 critical questions on the topic, with each participant providing their prepared answers. Wintery Knight has his overview of the debate here. Video can be found here.

Full Debate MP3 Audio here. (90 minutes)


More Bart Ehrman debates and responses here.


Kyle Essary said...

I really hope people don't skip over this debate because they don't know Craig Evans.

For those not in the guild of biblical scholars, let me assure you that Craig Evans may be the most well respected scholar living today, and that opinion would be widely held by those all across the spectrum of belief. We're talking about Geza Vermes, N.T. Wright, Richard Bauckham level scholar here.

Of course, everyone knows Ehrman because of his popular writing, but this debate is in his particular field of expertise (NT transmission). If you were to do a survey of the world's best scholars on that particular topic, Ehrman would be near the top (if not the top). So this debate is excellent!

Despite now being a leading New Testament scholar, Evans actually did his Ph.D. studies in Isaiah. When they said that he has published over 60 books and hundreds of articles, they weren't exaggerating. He's the type of scholar where publishers are interested to publish most everything that he writes.

Furthermore, those asking questions in this debate are also excellent scholars.

Another interesting fact is that he didn't become a Christian until doing his graduate studies. This happens to be the case with some of the best Christian New Testament scholars today like Craig Keener (Jesus scholar) and Nick Perrin (one of the leading scholars on the Gospel of Thomas) who both grew up in atheist/agnostic homes yet converted to Christianity as adults.

I can't recommend this debate highly enough.

Brian said...

I agree with James White's review.

Kyle Essary said...

(Part One)

Let me offer a brief rebuttal of Dr. White (whom I greatly admire), and attempt to show why I think Evans did well in this debate.

First, I agree that the format was not helpful. Obviously, the answers were prewritten and Ehrman used his standard speech, but cut it into parts. The second bad aspect of the format was that the questions were very large questions and the respondents were only give four or five minutes to respond.

With that said, I believe that Ehrman's attitude actually hurts him as a public speaker and debater. I've known a few students who took him at UNC and said even in his normal lectures he always comes across as frustrated and angry. I think this format highlighted this problem. Having listened to him as both a lecturer and debater, I've gotta agree that he seemed more riled up than ever.

Here was Bart's strategy in the debate (and just about every debate he's in):
1. Tell of how I "used to believe those things" when I was a fundamentalist at Moody, and how I struggled, but continued to believe them as an evangelical at Wheaton and a moderate at Princeton.

2. Mention along the way that I went to Princeton to study under the world's greatest textual critic (and never, ever mention that he was a rather conservative Christian...especially for Princeton).

3. Tell the story of how whenever I started to look at the text honestly, that I could no longer hold my fundamentalist/evangelical views.

4. List off five or six examples of what I consider to be contradictions.

5. Tell how every scholar at every major university agrees with me on this issue.

Kyle Essary said...

(Part Two)

This is always his strategy. If you noticed, this was the strategy he used in this "debate," and used it even when his answers didn't directly answer the questions being asked. Now, you can attack it multiple ways:

1. You can use the "you say this," here's a brief reason why it's wrong, "and so and so scholar says this" method. This is largely what White did in their debate. He would show the issues with some of Ehrman's quotes from his book and then fire back with quotes from Kurt Aland, Bruce Metzger (Ehrman's doktorvator) and Dan Wallace.

Here's why this method didn't work for those who keep up to date with textual criticism and most of the biblical scholars who listened to the debate. Whereas White may have been correct (I think he was), Ehrman can just write off Wallace as a fundamentalist who only says those things because he's bound to by his school (Dallas Seminary), and Aland/Metzger are dead and therefore out of touch with the most recent discussions. Furthermore, Ehrman can simply respond, "Who do you think knows Metzger better? A quote in your book, or someone like me who spent years under him?"

Ultimately, this strategy fails because it doesn't get to the underlying issues, which is Ehrman's faulty methodology and blatant non-sequiturs.

2. If you listen to the Greer-Heard forum from a few years back, you will hear a series of debate/discussion where Ehrman literally gets trounced. The debate was setup between Ehrman-Wallace, with Dale Martin and David Parker serving as "liberals" on Ehrman's side and Michael Holmes and Bill Warren on Wallace's side.

Wallace didn't win the debate. Sure, he got Ehrman to admit that there are no major divergences in the text. Sure, he pointed out some of the more blatant errors in "Misquoting Jesus," but the real winner of the debate was Dale Martin (Yale). He's a moderate Christian, but a Christian nonetheless who believes in a physical resurrection, but denies inerrancy and sees much of the text as mythical. In what was supposed to be a lecture to support Ehrman's position, he ended up grilling him for the non-sequiturs that led to his loss of faith. What are the real reasons that Ehrman doesn't believe and has gone on the warpath against Christianity? Is it the text? Martin shows that it clearly is not, and that Ehrman's continued telling of his story is false. Martin kept mentioning how he knew Ehrman during those days and how the facts are different from the story that is constantly told. So this strategy is to point out the flaws in Ehrman's personal story and how it doesn't follow or make sense that he would reject the faith simply because there are disagreements in the text on secondary issues.

Kyle Essary said...

(Part Three)

3. Holmes (on Wallace's side) also was able to undercut Ehrman because he was the final doctoral student under Metzger and followed Ehrman. He knows the way Metzger thinks and did a good job of showing how to think properly about textual transmission and how to think properly about whether or not we have the very words of Jesus.

This is the method that Evans took. The goal for Evans was to answer the questions from an evangelical perspective and attempt to use the time instead of answering each of Ehrman's questions such as "Were there two men at the tomb or one, or an angel?" His goal was to say, "Wait...let's talk about from a purely historical perspective what we can reasonably know about the text." That is why he focused on how Jesus was a teacher, and how teachers had disciples and how it was expected that they memorize their masters words, used wax tablets (was that this debate or this year's Greer-Heard that he metioned this?), etc. That's more valuable, because it's using your time to teach people how to think properly. No, it won't win the debate points...but if the goal is to simply throw out a ton of weak arguments and claim victory if the opponent doesn't answer them all, then Hitchens beat Craig...let's see who we can convince of that claim!

4. The final method which worked better than any other, but wouldn't work in a debate format came from Nic Perrin (Wheaton, one of world's top scholars on the Gospel of Thomas). He simply took Ehrman's format and turned the whole story on its head. He was raised by atheists and an atheists through high school whenever his teacher started teaching about world religions. He also started learning Greek and began reading the Greek New Testament as a teenager. He became interested in religion, but remained agnostic into college. I think he even says at one point he agreed with the mythers(!). As he began studying the Greek text more and more deeply, he started to believe. He continued to remain agnostic, but began practicing Buddhist meditation. Eventually though, his studies in the Greek New Testament led him to faith in Christ.

So, Ehrman claims that studying the Greek NT will make you lose your faith, but Perrin says the exact opposite. This removes the personal element from the story and undercuts Ehrman immensely. Now you just have to argue the data itself and in this regard, I believe that Perrin was very successful. If somebody is interested in more than an hour long debate, I would highly recommend "Lost in Transmission?" by Perrin.

Brian said...

Great points, G. Kyle.
I suppose it is the format that is most frustrating - but I agree that given the circumstances Evans took the right approach.

Unknown said...

I am pumped to study under Craig next year. Can't wait!

Unknown said...

Please is there any transcript for that debate?

Joed Lopez said...

Are you guys serious? We don't have the autographs...this point alone defeated Craig. We have copies of copies of copies that have differences and errors in the thousands...at best you can say the gospels (and entire NT for that matter) cannot be 100% accurate. This wasn't a debate, it was an exchange in views...the biggest point is not so much the style but the content...content is more important to style. Criticize the style and format all you want if that makes you better on how Dr. Evans lost, but one this is clear...Dr. Evans was perpetuating a theological view that uses the few historical and scholarly points that confirms his view all the while NOT explaining how we can be missing the originals and yet claim with 100% certainty it is God's Word.

I have no problem with anyone believing 100% its God's Word...but make the distinction, its your faith/theology, not a point backed up by scholarly or historical evidence. Period.

Kyle Essary said...

I've got an honest question. Did you actually listen to the debate before posting this comment? My reasons for asking this are that neither Dr. Evans nor I or anyone else in this thread mentioned autographs or made the argument that you are resisting. Furthermore, nobody was arguing over whether or not the New Testament is God's Word. Everyone is in agreement that if someone holds this it is a theological point.

The debate under the title "Did the New Testament Misquote Jesus?," linked above, was actually about whether or not the New Testament is historically reliable. For the most part, both scholars are in agreement. Both agree that Jesus lived, probably had a questionable birth, was raised in Nazareth, was baptized by John the Baptist, did things that the people of the day assumed were miracles, was crucified, dead and buried and that in the following days and weeks his followers experienced him as risen from the dead. Both scholars would go even further and agree that large swaths of the stories and words of Jesus are actual.

The difference is that Evans would go further and say that the New Testament on the whole is historically reliable, whereas Ehrman would only contend that certain parts that meet certain modernistic criteria can be declared as historical (whether or not they happened in the way recounted, he would argue that even if they did happen in a few situations we do not have enough evidence to say for sure that they did).

If you are seriously interested in this discussion, then you might want to download the Greer-Heard Forum from a few years ago where Dan Wallace, Bill Parker, Bart Ehrman, Michael Holmes and Dale Martin (probably 6 of the top 10 scholars on New Testament transmission living today) discuss these topics. Unfortunately, I'm afraid you're going to find that most scholars discussing this topic today come to far more conservative conclusions than the average internet discussion.

Overtaxed Thaigrr said...

All I can say is: it's pretty hard to consider the gospels and indeed the bible itself as anything more than the writings of ignorant iron age men after watching Ehrman's passionate and highly erudite presentations here (passionate, not frustrated!)

Evans by comparison, exhibits an embarrassingly transparent evangelical bias here, and clearly has not a shred of intellectual honesty.

I tuned into this debate with an open mind, seeking the honest opinions of those who have done the heavy lifting of learning the original tongues and studying the source material over the spans of decades.

From Ehrman I learned that the scriptures are erroneous and spun hearsay, and from Evans I got a Sunday School sermon. I used to be a believer but am no longer.

G. Kyle Essary said...

For some reason my previous comment didn't post...who knows?

Thaigrr, I'm glad you listened with an open mind. What about Ehrman's presentation was "erudite?" As someone who is pretty well read in the field of biblical studies, he actually seems more ensconced in scholarship and trends of the late 60s and early 70s that have largely been refuted, or at least moved beyond in the past 40 years.

Furthermore, what's the difference between an evangelical bias and a secular bias? Both worldviews shape our interpretation, no doubt. Why value Ehrman's over Evan's?

Furthermore, what were the reasons that you are no longer a believer? I'd love to hear any arguments that you put forth and have a dialogue if you are willing.


Believe that God can speak like a human, that is to say, has a tongue, mouth, vocal cords which means that it is a human we are talking about ... and the worst god monotheistic appears only recently in human history while millons of people are dead before jalmsi not have heard of him or spetree addressed eux.et also that God is not monotheistic because Muslims do refer to anything that Allah and Christians to their god even if one wants to believe that n 'there is only one gOD ... religions are not the fruit of the imagination of man to control and dominate and enrich not god. We take advantage of the ignorance of people and fireworks set for trick. A real deception.

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