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.
|The Colbert Report||Mon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c|
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.