Sunday, January 10, 2010

Done with Bart Ehrman

The other day I posted on how I started listening to Bart Ehrman's book God's Problem: how the Bible fails to answer our most important question - why we suffer. I returned it to the library yesterday after getting a little over half way through it, not because I wouldn't have finished it but because it was overdue and the library was closed so I just dropped it off.

First, let me say that the book felt a little bit to me like a stealth attack. The book is ostensibly about whether the writings in the Bible can satisfactorily answer questions about why suffering exists. While this is certainly a major theme, the real point of the book seemed to be a long (and angry) argument that God himself, if he exists, is a despicable, evil tyrant. The tone of the book was often angry and condescending; Ehrman's disdain for both God and Christians was evident.

While this was grating, the real problems with the book involve strange misrepresentations of Biblical passages. For example, as part of a discussion of the idea that suffering can lead to redemption, Mr. Ehrman relates the story of when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. In this passage, Lazarus, a friend of Jesus's, becomes very ill. Lazarus' sisters, Mary and Martha, send word to Jesus that their brother is sick. Jesus does not visit right away, though, but leaves to see them two days later. When Jesus arrives, Lazarus has already died and has been in the tomb for four days. Mary and Martha are of course greatly distressed, and Jesus himself begins to weep with sorrow. Jesus turns to those there and tells them that he is the resurrection and the life and that those who believe in him will have eternal life. Jesus then, demonstrating his power over death and suffering, raises Lazarus from the dead. The fact that he had been in the tomb for four days made it clear that he had been dead.

Mr. Ehrman's interpretation of this passage is that Jesus wanted Lazarus to die so that Jesus could then show off his power. To me, this a surprisingly immature, even purposely obtuse reading of the passage. Mr. Ehrman tells us how his students are always surprised when he tells them that Jesus wanted Lazarus to die. Indeed, they should be surprised, as there is no reason to believe this. Mr. Ehrman conveniently leaves out the little verse "Jesus wept." Jesus wept with sorrow when his friend Lazarus became ill and died, but utilized the situation to teach an important spiritual lesson about nothing less than eternal life and salvation, demonstrating that suffering will not last. If Jesus had caused Lazarus to die, or if he had been happy when Lazarus died, then perhaps Mr. Ehrman's interpretation would be tenable. But it is not.

There are a few other examples from the book I was going to write about, but I don't feel like spending the time. On a positive note, Mr. Ehrman does a nice job of giving an overview of the Old Testament books and writers. It is clear his knowledge of the Bible is extensive; it's too bad his anger seems to color all of his thinking about it.


Anonymous said...

Looks like he DID have a purpose for his plan: John 11: 14 So then he told them plainly, "Lazarus is dead, and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him."

Jeff L said...

Indeed, Jesus is glad for the opportunity to help others believe. But this is not the same as desiring Lazarus to die.

Thanks for your comment.