A Pretty Good Book

I respect this guy:


Hey there, Tim. I can't say that I hugely respect Ehrman (I've yet to read any of his stuff thoroughly...mostly just responses to it), but did you catch his interview with Stephen Colbert a while back? Now there's a guy who seems to give it to both sides pretty fairly. Here's a link to the video, in case you've not seen it: http://blog.beliefnet.com/bibleandculture/2009/04/colbert-interrupts-ehrman.html. Take care! B.J.
Bryan said…
I love Stephen Colbert. Absolutely hilarious! He's also a devout Catholic from what I understand, so although I found the interview funny I didn't necessarily get the impression that it was balanced, but rather that Ehrman's points were often met with ideas about what the bible should be/has been to Colbert (and many devout Christians I’m sure). The “elephant in a hole” analogy that Colbert used was a good one in some respects. I find it difficult though, in that it seems to basically say "Forget any historical/textual facts, this is what I want the bible to be, and anything that tests that view I’ll wrap up in maybes and unfounded (but popular) assumptions to avoid any possible detriment to my long held biblical and religious views."

I consider myself a Christian, and grew up evangelical. As such, it is difficult to face some of the glaring contradictions and other issues raised by an in depth study of the bible. The impact can be somewhat profound to one’s Christian worldview.
I'd say that you're definitely right about it not being a balanced interview, which is typical Colbert. I liked how he responded to Ehrman's comment that 'scholars for a long time have recognized the discrepancies in the Bible' with 'None of the scholars I read.' I imagine that probably happens on both sides of the issue, and certainly not just with this one. If a person only reads Ehrman and the like, of course he or she is going to think that it's fact. If someone only reads more conservative scholars, of course they're going to think that only that is the truth. That's why I think it's absolutely necessary to read a critique on your own perspective. So if I read 'Jesus, Interrupted' by Ehrman, I probably should read a reasonably intelligent critique on it, which Ben Witherington III (and others) has done on his blog.

Personally, I recognize some of the discrepancies within the Bible, and I can't deal with all of them as deeply as I'd like or explain them all away. But I don't think that the presence of some discrepancies, which tend to be of minor importance, means that we should discard it all. We're always looking over the shoulders of people of a different time, culture and worldview, so our understanding of certain aspects, including what was going through their minds when they wrote it, will always be a bit incomplete and perhaps mysterious. All this being said, studying the whole process of how the Bible was written and put together, albeit through imperfect humans, has actually added to my faith in and love for the God written about in the Bible, even as it has challenged certain traditional views I used to hold.

My apologies, Tim, for effectively putting my own blog post as a comment on your blog. I didn't realize it would be so long when I began writing it. B.J.
Tim Mathis said…
Not at all B.J., I'm glad to see the serious intellectual activity on the blog, particularly since I've been abdicating my responsibility to it :).

Full disclosure, I posted this video because I'm signed up with a program that sends me free books if I do things like that. (I know, it doesn't take much for me to sell out...) But knowing a little bit of his biography, I do identify with Ehrman as a guy who has wrestled with religious truth in honest, and occasionally quite brave, ways, and as someone who left behind evangelicalism but has continued to engage w/evangelicals as friends, rather than as an enemy tribe.

Re: the issue of Biblical contradiction and such, I took a class from an old Catholic priest at Seattle U that I found to be really helpful. The basic thing I took from it was that, when you read the narrative parts of scripture, it's helpful to recognize that the stories were recorded primarily for their theological/sociological/moral points, rather than their historical value (I probably learned this at Asbury too, but it stood out to me this time around for some reason). That's not to say that there's no history there, but it is to say that focusing on history can cause us to miss the point (and to get hung up about contradictions which the authors wouldn't have been much concerned about.) He talked about the patriarchal narratives as 'ancestor stories', for instance, which were recorded b/c they told the people they were written for about *us* (the people reading) as much as *them* (the people that the stories are about). They told the Exodus story, for instance, not (just) because it happened, but because the experience of exile and deliverance by God were central parts of Hebrew identity, and the Hebrew conception of the role that God plays in their existence. There's some value in looking at the Gospels in that way as well, I think. Primarily theological, secondarily historical. About God's redemptive action in Christ as much as about the events connected to that action.

That actually doesn't take care of the 'contradiction' problem - as Ehrman was saying in the Colbert video, you have a bunch of different theologies in Scripture, as well as a bunch of different historical claims. But I think that's a part of the richness, universality and durability of Scripture - all of the authors are describing their own parts of the elephant, so to speak, recorded in very different social, political, economic, and religious situations, and presenting very different interpretations of the mysterious God that we're all trying to sort out.

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