Critiquing Ehrman on Jesus’ Cleaning Of The Temple

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  • - 04/09/2009
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In his latest book titled, Jesus Interrupted, Bart Ehrman— who is now a media darling—says that “the Bible is filled with discrepancies, many of them irreconcilable contradictions. Moses did not write the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Old Testament) and Matthew, Mark, Luke and John did not write the gospels…the exodus probably did not happen as described in the Old Testament. The conquest of the Promised Land is probably based on legend…its hard to know whether Moses actually existed and what, exactly the historical Jesus taught. The historical narratives of the Old Testament are filled with legendary fabrications and the book of Acts in the New Testament contains historically unreliable information…”[1]  and, on and on he goes. Then in his book, he cites a litany of discrepancies and errors, some of which caused him to transition from a fundamentalist Christian to a happy agnostic. Now his mission in life is to shake the faith of his students.

 

One of the alleged inconsistencies that he cites in his book is that the gospel of Mark indicates that it was in the last week of Jesus’ life when he cleansed the temple by overturning the tables of the money changers, saying; “This is to be a house of prayer…but you have made it a den of thieves.” Whereas, according to Ehrman, the gospel of John says that this happened at the very beginning of John. Then Ehrman says, “some readers have thought that Jesus must have cleansed the temple twice, once at the beginning of his ministry and once at the end. But that would mean that neither Mark nor John tells the “true” story, since in both accounts he cleanses the temple only once.” He further asks, “Moreover, is this reconciliation of the two accounts historically plausible? If Jesus made a disruption of the temple in the beginning of his ministry, why wasn’t he arrested by the authorities then?” He concludes with the following dogmatic assertion: “Historically speaking, then, the accounts are not reconcilable.”

 

Well is Professor Ehrman right? Is this just one more in a litany of errors made by a pseudonymous gospel writer, or is this just indicative of a professor gone wild? I would first say, in answer to that question, it is not only uncharitable but unquestionably wrong headed to suggest that neither Mark nor John—who by the way Ehrman demeans as illiterate—would be telling the true story had the temple been cleansed twice. As is no doubt obvious to even the most unlettered of Ehrman’s students, neither Gospel writer provides an exhaustive account of everything Jesus said or did. As the apostle John indicates in hyperbolic parlance, no doubt lost on a wooden literalist like Bart Ehrman, “Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.” (John 21:25).

 

Furthermore, the gospel of John itself provides a more than historically plausible insight as to why Jesus might not have been arrested during His initial temple cleansing. The proverbial straw that breaks the camel’s back leading to the arrest and trial of Jesus quite logically would have resulted from a late, not an early temple cleansing. Not only so, but as the gospel of John makes clear, the Jewish leaders did not arrest Jesus in the early stages of his ministries for fear of the multitudes who were in awe of Christ’s teaching and miracles.

 

One final point, as even a cursory reading reveals, John kairologically orders his gospel by theme. I think that is an important point. John as such says, the Word became flesh and tabernacled among us, which fulfills the Old Testament promise that God’s glory would again return to His temple. Moreover, John reinterprets the meaning of Passover by revealing Jesus as the quintessential Passover. As such it would be logically, and I would say charitable, to surmise that John might introduce his account of Christ’s temple cleansing early in his Gospel narrative and within a context in which Jesus is reveled as the substance that fulfills the types and shadows of temple priests and sacrifice.

 

While such a notion does not sit well with a fundamentalist reading of scripture, it accords well with the nuanced and highly sophisticated reckoning of time particular to the ancients. A kairological interpretation, which reckons time not in terms of our familiar chronological ordering, but in terms of a quality of purpose in which an event is said to occur at just the right time. In other words, even if there was just one temple cleansing, one might logically assume that John communicates it kairologically, as opposed to chronologically.

 

Of the course the very fact a number of plausible resolutions have been forwarded precludes the charge that the gospel accounts are in fact contradictory.

 

So, Bart Ehrman set this up as a way of dissuading his students, particularly the ones he calls his conservative students, from believing that the Bible is the infallible repository of redemptive revelation. He writes, “some students accept these new views from day one. Others––especially those among the more conservative students––resist for a long time secure in their knowledge that God would not allow any falsehoods into a sacred book, but before long as students see more and more of the evidence many of them find that their faith in the inerrant and absolute historical truthfulness of the Bible begins to waver.”[3] This is of course his goal, he’s shaking the faith of his students, because he wants them to know what he thinks is true, and that is that the Bible is riddled with errors.


Do you like what you’re reading? Take a look at this.


 

In the face of this onslaught on the Bible, we always need to be ready to give an answer. For further information on supposed Bible contradictions please see my Complete Bible Answer Book.    

 

 

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[1] Bart D. Ehrman, Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (And Why We Don’t Know About Them) (New York, Harper One, 2009) 5-6.

[2] Ibid., 7

 

[3] Ibid. 6

 

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Is God a Moral Monster?, with Paul Copan – Pt. 1

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