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Jesus Saves, Not the Bible

Posted by on May. 17, 2015 at 9:21 AM
  • 178 Replies

By Bart Ehrman
author, religion professor

“Are you out to destroy the Christian religion?” I’ve been asked this question several times over the past month, as some evangelicals have expressed shock and outrage over my book, “Jesus Interrupted,” where I deal with the historical problems of the New Testament. These problems are rife, to be sure. The New Testament contains numerous discrepancies and contradictions; different New Testament authors have different perspectives on key issues, such as who Jesus is and how one can attain salvation; a large number of New Testament books were not written by the people who claim to be their authors; and several key doctrines of Christianity — the deity of Christ, the Trinity, the idea of heaven and hell — cannot be found on the lips of the historical Jesus or the pens of his earliest followers. But doesn’t that make Christianity bogus? “Are you out to destroy the Christian religion?”

The truth is that I find this question more than a little odd. For one thing, I learned all of these problems in a leading Protestant theological seminary, while taking Bible classes in preparation for Christian ministry. These problems are regularly taught in mainline seminaries (Presbyterian, Lutheran, Methodist, Episcopalian, now Catholic) — taught by Christians to prospective Christian ministers in order to prepare them for Christian service. Moreover, these problems have been known for decades, in some cases for well over a century. Only strong evangelicals and fundamentalists demur; ironically, these conservative Christians have a completely modern, not a historical, understanding of the Bible.

The idea that to be a Christian you have to “believe in the Bible” (meaning, believe that it is in some sense infallible) is a modern invention. Church historians have traced the view, rather precisely, to the Niagara Conference on the Bible, in the 1870s, held over a number of years to foster belief in the Bible in opposition to liberal theologians who were accepting the results of historical scholarship. In 1878 the conference summarized the true faith in a series of fourteen statements. The very first one — to be believed above all else — was not belief in God, or in the death and resurrection of Jesus. It was belief in the Bible:

We believe “that all Scripture is given by inspiration of God,” [that] the Holy Ghost gave the very words of the sacred writings to holy men of old; and that His Divine inspiration is not in different degrees, but extends equally and fully to all parts of these writings, historical, poetical, doctrinal, and prophetical and to the smallest word, and inflection of a word, provided such word is found in the original manuscripts:

To make faith in the Bible the most important tenet of Christianity was a radical shift in thinking — away, for example, from traditional statements of faith such as the Apostles Creed and the Nicene Creed, which say not a word about belief in the Bible.

The fourteen statements of the so-called Niagara Creed were called “The Fundamentals.” Those who adopted such “fundamentals” of the faith later called themselves “fundamentalists.” Today the term fundamentalist is almost completely pejorative. Even most fundamentalists refuse to admit they are fundamentalists (“fundamentalists” are always the hyper-religious people to your far right, wherever you stand theologically). But the basic fundamentalist faith in the inerrancy of Scripture has become a fixture of one segment of Protestant Christianity, especially in parts of this country, such as the South, where I live. Here, to be a Christian, you have to “believe in the Bible.”

Throughout most of history most Christian thinkers would have been seen this view as theological nonsense. Or blasphemy. The Bible was never to be an object of faith. God through Christ was. Being a Christian meant believing in Christ, not believing in the Bible.

Here are the historical realities. Christianity existed before the Bible came into being: no one decided that our twenty-seven books of the New Testament should be “the” Christian Scripture until three hundred years after the death of the apostles. Since that time Christianity has existed in places where there were no Bibles to be found, where no one could read the Bible, where no one correctly understood the Bible. Yet it has existed. Christianity does not stand or fall with the Bible.

And so, biblical scholarship will not destroy Christianity. It might de-convert people away from a modern form of fundamentalist belief. But that might be a very good thing indeed.

Bart D. Ehrman is the author of more than 20 books, incuding his new “Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible,” published by HarperCollins. Ehrman is the James A. Gray Distinguished Professor at the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill. He came to UNC in 1988, after four years of teaching at Rutgers University. At UNC he has served as both the Director of Graduate Studies and the Chair of the Department of Religious Studies.

by on May. 17, 2015 at 9:21 AM
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Replies (1-10):
idunno1234
by Platinum Member on May. 17, 2015 at 9:27 AM
2 moms liked this

I thought this would be a good Sunday topic.

This addresses what I have been saying is one of my fundamental issues with some modern day Christians- the focus being on the bible, a collection of writings full of contradictions that was obviously never meant to be taken literally versus Jesus, the man the whole dang religion is supposed to be based on.

The bible is not something that we can consider an historical record, let alone the Word of God.  Some can continue to choose to bury their heads in the sand regarding this topic but it doesn't change the reality of what we do know vs the unreality of what people wish things to be.

Admittedly, what we know about Jesus isn't much but its disheartening to see people twist what was undoubtedly a powerful and good message to something that is destructive and self serving.

idunno1234
by Platinum Member on May. 17, 2015 at 9:34 AM
2 moms liked this

"The Bible was never to be an object of faith. God through Christ was. Being a Christian meant believing in Christ, not believing in the Bible. "

Stephanie329
by Ruby Member on May. 17, 2015 at 9:51 AM
So interesting:)
idunno1234
by Platinum Member on May. 17, 2015 at 10:38 AM
3 moms liked this

In all honesty, there is little historical evidence that Jesus existed at all.  

My thinking is, what difference does it make?  

The message I was taught as a child regarding Jesus still resonates with me to this day as an agnostic.  

So many Christians choose to focus more on the bible and particular beliefs for self serving reasons- how do we gain God's favor and enter heaven (and avoid hell) as opposed to what can we do to move humanity in a positive direction?

The way I look at it is simple- which way serves humanity better? 

Quoting Stephanie329: So interesting:)

 

Della529
by on May. 17, 2015 at 11:10 AM
2 moms liked this

I am amazed at how many people do not know this.

liza44
by on May. 17, 2015 at 11:18 AM
Wow, only on cm have I ever seen "christians" who think this way.
12hellokitty
by Ruby Member on May. 17, 2015 at 11:21 AM
4 moms liked this

I think I have asked you in the past about who you read regarding your views on Christianity, and it's not surprising to see you put weight in writings of Ehrman. Not sure where you come up with there is little historical evidence Jesus existed. I'm curious as to what you have read that challenges your views on Christianity specifically regarding if Jesus was a historical figure?

And I realize you commented that it doesn't make any difference, yet you go on to define what you think many Christians choose to focus on for self serving reasons. So I think it's fair to challenge you on your views as they could be just as easily viewed as self serving. 

History shows belief in Jesus as recorded in the bible is responsible for moving humanity in countless positive directions still to this day. I'm not sure the same can be said of those throught out history who sought to undermine and redefine the things Christianity teaches regarding Jesus and the bible.  

Quoting idunno1234:

In all honesty, there is little historical evidence that Jesus existed at all.  

My thinking is, what difference does it make?  

The message I was taught as a child regarding Jesus still resonates with me to this day as an agnostic.  

So many Christians choose to focus more on the bible and particular beliefs for self serving reasons- how do we gain God's favor and enter heaven (and avoid hell) as opposed to what can we do to move humanity in a positive direction?

The way I look at it is simple- which way serves humanity better? 

Quoting Stephanie329: So interesting:)



idunno1234
by Platinum Member on May. 17, 2015 at 11:23 AM
2 moms liked this

I am amazed by how many people insist on believing something that has only proven to be detrimental based on how men have twisted things for self serving reasons.

Apparently, being compassionate, loving, giving, kind and empathetic is too difficult for too many.  Focusing on the Bible and all of its inanities makes it easier to justify being self serving instead of serving others. 

This goes for all religions, all religious texts.  People tend to focus on what is convenient for them, what fits their personal worldview rather than taking a step back and seeing objectively what is causing harm and what would be best for our species.

Any decent God would be ashamed of our religions and how we have used them to mistreat each other.

Quoting Della529:

I am amazed at how many people do not know this.

 

PamR
by Ruby Member on May. 17, 2015 at 11:41 AM
1 mom liked this

What he says about living in the South and having to believe in the Bible, is certainly true.  Unfortunately, it's also used as a weapon.

The Bible is written by man, and translated and translated and translated.  The essence of Christianity is belief in Christ, not interpretations of Scripture.  The fundamentals are quite simple. 

idunno1234
by Platinum Member on May. 17, 2015 at 11:52 AM

I know Ehrman is controversial.  Anyone who questions various religions is controversial and often reviled.

That does not mean his years of study and research are without merit or that he is the only one.  I am sure you are aware that there are whole sites which dissect the bible and its many inconsistencies and discrepancies as well as questioning its various writers' authenticity.

This is a subject that has had a ton of research done and yet, so little is still known, so much is still debated.

The fact of the matter is we have to accept that we will never know since we weren't there and for whatever reason Jesus wrote nothing himself.

This is why I wish people would stop putting such faith, all of their faith really, in religious texts, regardless of religion.

I think it is what makes people lose sight of what is important and has caused so much divisiveness, something I can't imagine Jesus would have been happy about.

Thank you for your input.  I appreciate your perspective.  

Quoting 12hellokitty:

I think I have asked you in the past about who you read regarding your views on Christianity, and it's not surprising to see you put weight in writings of Ehrman. Not sure where you come up with there is little historical evidence Jesus existed. I'm curious as to what you have read that challenges your views on Christianity specifically regarding if Jesus was a historical figure?

And I realize you commented that it doesn't make any difference, yet you go on to define what you think many Christians choose to focus on for self serving reasons. So I think it's fair to challenge you on your views as they could be just as easily viewed as self serving. 

History shows belief in Jesus as recorded in the bible is responsible for moving humanity in countless positive directions still to this day. I'm not sure the same can be said of those throught out history who sought to undermine and redefine the things Christianity teaches regarding Jesus and the bible.  

Quoting idunno1234:

In all honesty, there is little historical evidence that Jesus existed at all.  

My thinking is, what difference does it make?  

The message I was taught as a child regarding Jesus still resonates with me to this day as an agnostic.  

So many Christians choose to focus more on the bible and particular beliefs for self serving reasons- how do we gain God's favor and enter heaven (and avoid hell) as opposed to what can we do to move humanity in a positive direction?

The way I look at it is simple- which way serves humanity better? 

Quoting Stephanie329: So interesting:)

 

 

 

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