What Christmas Means and Why I Hope Bart Ehrman Gets It Someday


Newsweek_Jesus2012CoverA recent Newsweek cover [Dec. 17, 2012] pictures the Nativity and claims that Bart Ehrman will answer such questions as “Who was Jesus? Did he have a wife? How many wise men were there? Why Bethlemhem? In a manger or a cave?” Unfortunately, the cover is referring to an article inside called “The Myths of Jesus.” In case you’re wondering Bart Ehrman regularly writes books and articles disparaging the Bible and claiming it contains contradictions, all in the name of historical criticism.

His excuse for writing the article for this liberal rag is a recent papyrus fragment which cited Jesus as having a wife. The fragment has been largely discredited as a hoax, and even Ehrman admits this, but we are supposed to think that it “once again raises questions about what we really know about Jesus.” Nice try, Newsweek.

Now, others have amply addressed his various points in the article,so I don’t want to beat a dead horse [and Ehrman, the horse you and the Jesus Seminar rode in on has been beaten well past death. Yet you claim not to believe in the resurrection of the dead!]. Instead, I wanted to comment on his closing paragraphs:

“Conundrums such as these have been debated for many years, of course, with some Christian scholars and their lay followers finding ingenious solutions to them and more critical historians insisting that in fact they are bona fide probles that show that these Gospel sources, whatever else they are, are not historically reliable descriptions of what really happened when Jesus was born.

“Many Christians take offense at that claim, but in fact it need not be that way, as many less literally minded believers have long known and said. The accounts of Jesus’ life in the New Testament have never been called “histories”; instead they have always been known as “Gospels” – that is “proclamations of the good news.” These are books that meant to declare religious truths, not historical facts. For believers who think that truth must, necessarily, be based on history, that probably will not be good news at all. But for those with a broader vision, a more generous appreciation of literature, and a fuller sense of theological meaning, the story of the Christ-child and his appearance in the world can be founded not on what really did happen, but on what really does happen, in the lives of those who believe that stories such as these can convey greater truth.”

My first question upon reading that very last sentence was, What greater truth does Bart believe the Gospels relate than that God so loved the world that He sent His only Son into the world in fulfillment of prophetic Messianic promise to save humanity from their sins? It is a historical event we celebrate at Christmas, that the God-man stepped into history. History is at the crux of the theological truth the Gospels make here, just as it is with the Resurrection and Creation account.

These particular theological truths cannot be divorced from historical fact, for they claim to have been fulfilled as historical facts!

Did you catch that part about the Gospels never being called histories but Gospels? This is pobably the worst non sequitur Ehrman commits! Just because they were called proclamations of the good news, doesn’t mean they weren’t considered histories as well! Ehrman should know better than to propose such a bad argument.

Ehrman’s bias for the mythologizing nonsense of liberal theology is evident in his portrait of those whose vision is as broad as the damnable road they travel, more generous in their appreciation of literature than they are of Biblical truth, and have a fuller nonsense of theological meaning for their attempt to utilize a fallcy known as the fact/value distinction. In Chapter 2 of Refuting Evolution 2, creationist Dr Jonathan sarfti comments on Stephen Jay Gould’s “widely publicized claims that religion and science are ‘non-overlapping magisteria’ (NOMA),” the idea that “science deals with facts of the real world, while religion deals with ethics, values, morals, and what it means to be human.” This is the very principle the Clergy Letter Project espouses andwhich Ehran here promotes. Dr Jonathan Sarfati amply answers both Gould and Ehrman with the following:

“However, this is based on the philosophically fallacious ‘fact-value distinction,’ and is really an anti-Christian claim. For example, the resurrection of Christ is an essential ‘value’ of the Christian faith (1 Cor. 15:12–19), but it must also be a fact of history to be of value—it had to pass the ‘testable’ Bible prophecy that the tomb would be empty on the third day; and it had to impinge on science by demonstrating the power of God over so-called ‘natural laws’ that dead bodies decay, and do not return to life. Christians should be aware that this is not only a theoretical argument about the anti-Christian implications of NOMA—Gould openly dismissed John’s historical narrative of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearance to doubting Thomas as a ‘moral tale.’

This NOMA distinction really teaches that religion is just in one’s head, which seems to dull the senses of many Christians more than an overt declaration that Christianity is false. So NOMA is even more insidious.

Christians should not fall for this false distinction between facts and morality. Christ is the Lord of the universe, and the Bible is accurate on everything it touches on, not just faith and morality, but history, science, and geography, also. So Christians should not give up any part of the ‘real world’ to those with a materialistic agenda—especially when atheists are happy to let their own faith influence their science, by promoting evolution.”

Amen to Dr Sarfati, especially as we note how applicable his comments are to Ehrman’s claims against the Gospels’ accounts of Christ’s birth.

But let’s take Ehrman’s argument at face value ant look at what Christmas means in light of his claims.

It means that Christmas is based on a lie, a clever fabrication that attempted to weave prophetic fulfillment into someone’s birth and instill meaning where it never belonged. It means that we celebrate a lie, that we put on plays to publish the good news of an event that never happened. It means that God never came to this world, except in clever stories that were not so clever after all. For atheist Bart Ehrman professes that we do follow cleverly devised fables after all, despite the Apostle Peter’s claims to the contrary. What greater theological truth does Ehrman propose we get out of this historical falsehood? That it’s OK to lie if it makes people feel good? That God doesn’t keep His promises [as foretold by the prophets]? If no God-man ever stepped into history in fulfillent of Biblical prophecy, Jesus was just a man who died on a cross and we are all still in our sins; what’s the good news in that? By Ehrman’s misinterpretation, the Gospels are neither histories nor even good news! It’s a Scrooged-up theology and a Grinchy sort of good news he offers, at best.

But if the Gospel accounts are true history, it means God keeps His promises. It means that a God-man was born into the world and that God chose to live among His image-bearers for 30 years before beginning His earthly ministry. It means that God guided rich wise men by a star to see this Promised Child, that he sent angels to tell poor shepherds the Good News, that he allowed a young virgin to carry the Child, and allowed elderly faithful Jews to see the Child of Promise before they died.  It means that God reassured and comforted and encouraged those involved in these events through angelic messengers, dreams and miracles to place the stamp of the supernatural significance on these things. It means that God really did condescend to come in the flesh to be a living and perfect sacrifice for our sin, that we might be reconciled to Him. What greater theology can Ehrman offer than this: that God kept His promises, confirmed the fulfillment of His promises with many signs and wonders, and that the God-man was born to redeem mankind? What greater theology can Ehrman offer than Good News to the whole world, including the young and the old, the lowly and the wise, the rich and the poor?

You see, that’s what Christmas means, and I hope that Bart Ehrman gets it someday.

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4 thoughts on “What Christmas Means and Why I Hope Bart Ehrman Gets It Someday

  1. The Gospels ARE history…they turned the world right-side-up and revealed the Truth for all to see clearly, if they would just believe.

    While the ‘history’ of the Christmas holiday itself is not Christian, it has BECOME so by the faith of those who celebrate it in His name. (We basically took it over and made it ours.) The meaning of the holiday has been Christian for a long time now, based on the Gospels in the new testament, which are based on The Truth. And that Truth made history, as it re-made fallen men with hope and love to believe.

    Without the birth, there can be no death for the salvation of men… and NO FAITH! So IT MATTERS.. so I can see where Christians find great offense to this way of thinking.

    If a religious truth cannot be an historical fact, it is no longer a Truth, but a Lie, and a BIG one at that…

  2. Pingback: Book Review: Communicating the Gospel (William Barclay). » Dave Enjoys

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