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A Rational Look at Christianity; Basing Reason in Truth

On April 9, 2009, Stephen Colbert of the Colbert Report interviewed Bart Ehrman regarding his latest book, Jesus Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible and Why We Didn't Know About Them.

For those unfamiliar with the Colbert Report, the show is broadcast Monday through Thursday on Comedy Central. Making little attempt to be serious, the show makes fun of everyone and everything largely through mockery. Generally, the show does not take sides on Christianity -- Colbert has done some comedy that many in the Christian community would find quite offensive -- but in a rare serious interview I once saw, Colbert said that he teaches Sunday School at his church. As a result, unlike many of the interviewers I am sure that Bart Ehrman encounters (where the interviewer has never thought through the issues surrounding the evidence supporting Christianity's claims), Colbert had the religious background to actually engage Ehrman on the issues.

On the show, Colbert challenged Ehrman's drivel. Most of the time, Ehrman seemed incapable of responding to Colbert or matching his wit. Most of the time, he seemed to be stuck on trying to make his talking points despite the fact that Colbert was slowly raking him over the coals. Of course, since the interview is part of a comedy show, so Colbert threw in some jabs at Ehrman that were designed to raise a guffaw or two without really constituting a substantive response. However, the clear winner of the exchange was Colbert. The entire interview is below.

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Bart Ehrman
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Now, there are several things that Bart Ehrman said that need a further response than Colbert could give in a six minute segment on a comedy newscast. For example, Ehrman claims that only in John does Jesus claim to be divine. Obviously, this claim is not new, nor is it completely without merit: Certainly, it is in John's Gospel where we find the most express claims that Jesus is God. But simply because the claim is not as express in the other Gospels does not mean that it is not there at all.

Colbert points out at least one of these claims to be God rather clearly when he notes that Jesus is called the Son of God repeatedly in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, and that the "son" has the attributes of its father. ("What's the son of a duck? It's a duck.") But Jesus taking the title of "Son of God" isn't the only claim by Jesus that is equivalent to a claim to be God in these three Gospels.

On Glenn Miller's fine Christian Think-tank, there is a page entitled The Trinity (IIIf) -- The NT Witness: Summary--The Deity of Jesus Christ in which Glenn sets a partial summary of the evidence from Scripture that shows that Jesus claimed to be God. Many of these claims come not just from the Gospel of John, but from the other three Gospels. These claims include the following all of which are claims found in the three synoptic Gospels:

Jesus' claims relative to worship, glorification, exaltation, object of religious faith, title of "God".

Jesus promised to come in 'the glory of the Father' (Mark 8.38)
Jesus held himself out as a legitimate object for religious faith (Mark 9.42; Jn 3.15; Jn 9.35f) even to the same extent as the Father (Jn 14.1)
He NEVER corrects those who accuse him of making himself equal to God (Mr 2.5ff; Jn 5.17ff; Jn 8.58-59; Jn 10:30-39) nor those who called him "GOD" (Jn 20.28).
He claims loyalty greater than ALL human loyalties (Mt 10.37)

Jesus' claims to authority

Jesus claimed to be able to forgive sins (Mark 2.5ff; Lk 7.48f)
Jesus had authority over the Sabbath (Mark 2.28; Mt 12.8)
Jesus claims that the elect are his, and that the angels are his (Mr 13.26f)--either in possession or authority over
He implied that he had the ability/authority to abolish the law (Mt 5.21)
He implied by his "but I say to you..." passages a divine authority (Mt 5)
He had the authority to give authority over evil to others (Lk 10.19)
He has authority to confer a kingdom--in the SAME MANNER that the Father does (Lk 22.29f)
He claims to have authority to send/give the Holy Spirit of God! (Lk 24.49; Jn 4.10 with 7.37-39; Jn 15.26; Jn 16.7)

His claims to IDENTITY/EQUALITY with the Father

He claims to be on a par with the Father and the Holy Spirit (Mt 28.19)
He claims that his coming was the same as God's coming (Lk 19.43ff)
He claims to operate co-extensively with the Spirit (Mk 21.14-15 with Mt 10 and Mr 13)

Jesus claims to a UNIQUE relationship to the Father

Jesus considered His Sonship-relation with the Father to be ABSOLUTELY unique (Mr 12.1-11; Jn 20.17)
He claims to be the unique Heir of God (Mr 12.1-11)
He claims to have EXCLUSIVE knowledge of the Father (Mt 11.27; Jn 7.28-29)

Jesus' exalted nature and powers

Jesus is often linked to the word 'Lord' (Mr 11.3; Mr 5:19-20)
Jesus claimed to be greater than King David (Mr 12.35-37), than the Temple (Mt 12.6), than the prophet Jonah (Mt 12.41), than King Solomon (Mt 12.42).
He claims that his rank in the universe is superior to the angels (Mr 13.32)
He implies that he is, or will be, omnipresent (Mt 18.20; Mt 28.19)
He claims to have access to knowledge of the future, and events occurring in heaven (Lk 22.31).

The Claims of Jesus which make NO SENSE if He were not God

Jesus claims that his words will outlast time itself! (Mr 13.31)
He claims that the eternal destiny of people depend on their response to HIM! (Mt 7.21ff; Mt 25.17ff)

I would add that there are additional verses where Jesus either claims to be God or is identified as God that are not in Glenn's list. For example, one of the statements of Jesus that all acknowledge as a claim to be God is Jesus' famous claim to be "I am." (John 8:58) Yet, as Lee Strobel reports in his interview with Dr. Craig Blomberg in The Case for Christ, Jesus made an identical claim in Matthew and Mark. Strobel quotes Blomberg as saying,

Think of the story of Jesus walking on the water, found in Matthew 14:22-333 and Mark 6:45-52. Most English tranlsations hide the Greek by quoting Jesus as saying, 'Fear not, it is I.' Actually, the Greek literally says, 'Fear not, I am.' Those last two words are indentical to what jesus said in John 8:58, when he took upon himself the divine name 'I Am,' which is the say God revealed himselft to Moses in the burning bush in Exodus 3:14. So Jesus is revealing himself as the one who has the same divine power over nature as Yahweh, the God of the Old Testament.

Colbert's interview with Ehrman is fun, but the claims of Ehrman's book are not. They are serious and are likely to be taken seriously by people who read it. I am glad that Colbert was able to poke a few holes in it in front of a rather large television audience who likely have little exposure to these types of arguments. I hope that others poke more holes in Ehrman's book and ideas elsewhere because, based upon this interview with Colbert, they sure seem as if it shouldn't be taken as gospel.

23 comments:

Your exposition is excellent! The video is a hoot! I'm so glad God has a sense of humor.

Ehrman's works may or may not be drivel, but then you go on to quote from Lee Strobel? Granted I only read The Case for a Creator, but that was quite enough for me. Is The Case for Christ better?

Craig Blomberg is better. Regardless of what you think of Stobel of the "Case for ...." series as a whole, Blomberg is a top notch scholar.

Thanks, I'll check him out.

Would The Historical Reliability of the Gospels be a good place to start?

I have never read any of his longer works. I have only read shorter pieces that are available on line. He regularly posts on PrimetimeJesus.com here: http://blog.bible.org/primetimejesus/blogs/craig-blomberg

Cool! Free is even better! Thanks!

Another great book I would like to recommend is this book written by Gary Chapman- Love is a Verb -
http://www.bizymoms.com/books/love-is-a-verb/index.html
beautiful moving and inspiring true stories. Check it out as there is a contest to win an autographed copy of his new book and a cash prize of $50.00 as well - http://www.bizymoms.com/books/love-is-a-verb/contest.html

Thanks, Jackie. I'm familiar with Chapman's work, though I haven't read any of it beyond taking the Which Love Language do you have? on Facebook. ;-)

Did Love is a Verb just come out this month? It says May 1st on Amazon and only has one review.

I've always thought we should live life as if love were a verb.

Why didn't Colbert confront Ehrman with the clearest claim in Mark that Jesus considered himself to be the one God of Judaism 'My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?'

See Ehrman try to double-speak his way out of this clear claim by Jesus that there is only one God and that Jesus was God.

MIKE
Would The Historical Reliability of the Gospels be a good place to start?

CARR
It would be, except that it does not demonstrate the historical reliability of the Gospels.

Just watch Blomberg try to show it is historically reliable that lots of people rose from their graves and appeared to many in Jerusalem....

'Most English tranlsations hide the Greek by quoting Jesus as saying, 'Fear not, it is I.' Actually, the Greek literally says, 'Fear not, I am.'

Jesus was speaking Greek, was he?

And if somebody says 'I am' in Greek, they are claiming to be God?

Obviously, they must be.

John 18:6 'When Jesus said, "I am he," they drew back and fell to the ground.'

The Roman soldiers were bound to fall to the ground, when Jesus said 'I am'

As Strobel points out '...'I Am,' which is the say God revealed himselft to Moses in the burning bush in Exodus 3:14. So Jesus is revealing himself as the one who has the same divine power over nature as Yahweh, the God of the Old Testament.'

The people who came to arrest Jesus would have known that as well as Strobel does, and so naturally have fallen to the ground when Jesus said 'I am'.

After all, this falling to the ground is all perfectly plausible and not totally ridiculous....

"It would be, except that it does not demonstrate the historical reliability of the Gospels."

Well, that would be a problem then wouldn't it? ;-)

Steven,

You try and you try, but you really aren't making any sense.

I assume that your first response is "tongue in cheek"? The phrase "My God, my God...." has been well answered repeatedly by noting that it is the first line of Psalm 22. It is like saying "In the beginning, the Word was with God...." Everyone who has studied the Bible can fill in the rest of the opening verses of John 1:1-18 based only on that reference.

Your second comment in response to Mike is a truism. Of course he hasn't proven it to everyone's satisfaction. Anyone can say, "I'm not convinced" to anything that they don't want to be convinced about. As far as the argument that Blomberg would have trouble convincing us that "lots of people rose from their graves and appeared to many in Jerusalem", again, yes. That's obvious. The difference is that if he can make the case that the Gospels are intended to be historical and that they are accurate in the parts that we can check, then your unwillingness to accept this rather difficult passage is due to your reliance upon your experience (things like this just don't happen) then upon a real objection to the Gospel as portraying acutal history.

Finally, Jesus wasn't speaking Greek. But the Gospel was written in Greek and contains the same claim as the Gospel of John. And the idea that any claim that "I am" is a claim to be God is not what Blomberg or anyone else is advocating. The event on the water as well as the event in the Gospel of John are both examples where Jesus is using the situation to make that claim. Seriously, are you claiming that when Jesus said "I am" in John and the people wanted to stone him because they understood it to be a claim to be God that Jesus wasn't saying that? If you are, then (as you often are) you are once again alone in your unique world of Biblical misinterpretation.

*embarrassed grin*
Gee, wouldn't you know it, I misquoted John 1:1. The phrase in the preceding should be "In the beginning was the Word...."

I see.
Jesus spent his time on the cross quoting the titles of Psalms.

'It is like saying "In the beginning, the Word was with God...." Everyone who has studied the Bible can fill in the rest of the opening verses of John 1:1-18 based only on that reference.'

When Jesus said 'I am', why did the arresting party fall to the ground?

Yes, people passed in many a hapy hour watching people being crucified , and filling in the Biblical references given by the crucifixion victims, who would hand out Psalm titles like crossword cryptic clues, relying on their audience to work out what they meant.

If I was being crucified, I would use my precious few breaths to say what I mean, rather than quote opening lines of Psalms, hoping people read further down the page to try to work out what I meant.

But that is the rationalisation needed by people who want to claim that when Jesus said, 'My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?', Jesus knew that he was the one God of monotheistic Judaism.


When Jesus said 'I am', why did the arresting party fall to the ground?

You do know that Colbert is satirizing right wing ignorance, right?

Or maybe not...

Doh! Hermit! That's a secret! ;-)

A Hermit,

I do know that his major act is mocking right wingers because his major character is a take-off on Bill O'Reilly. But if you look beyond the major act, he slams liberals and conservatives, right wing and left wing, alike. (And when he slams the left wing, in the interest of a balanced approach you would admit that he is slamming left wing ignorance, right? )

Yes, people passed in many a hapy hour watching people being crucified , and filling in the Biblical references given by the crucifixion victims, who would hand out Psalm titles like crossword cryptic clues, relying on their audience to work out what they meant.Yup, once again you show that there is no sense talking to you. This is so obvious and understandable because it is so common. In today's world, you see it mostly when someone quotes from a song. If someone were to quote from the first line of a popular song, such as "Start spreading the news, I'm leaving today," you wouldn't have to have him sing the whole song. You would know immediately what song he was referencing (at least, you would if you have any sense of what's popular in the culture). But no, you decide to try to belittle rather than engage.

Thanks for the usual half-effort at an intelligent conversation. But next time, go hang around someplace where people might think your rhetoric is actually worthwhile, like the Rational Responders.

Sometimes Colbert is slamming ignorance, and sometimes he's just poking fun. There's no such thing as left wing ignorance though.

As to Jesus quoting psalms in a time of anguish, people do that all the time. Heck, just look at Facebook status updates, they are filled with lines from popular lyrics.

I don't find it so unbelievable that he might say it, but I do have no idea if actually did say it.

(For the random possibly thick reader that may wander by: Of course I was kidding about the "no such thing as left wing ignorance")

MIKE
As to Jesus quoting psalms in a time of anguish, people do that all the time.

CARR


So your claim is that Jesus knew that he was God, and in his anguish he quoted Psalm 22 'My God, my God why have you forsaken me?', confirming his belief that he was the one God of monotheistic Judaism?

I still don't understand how quoting the Psalm could be seen as Jesus thinking he was God. Maybe I'm missing something. Christians see it as perhaps prophetic, but a claim to be deity? Perhaps I am missing your point.

As to Jesus quoting psalms as fulfillment of prophesy I have to quote CyberKitten from a comment on this blog: Answer Bearer: Apologetics for the Soul"So.... Volume 2 agreed with Volume 1.

Go figure...... "

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