In many ways, this substantial volume by Ehrman seems to be an expansion of his 2011 book, Forged. In that respect, my review of the latter book largely impacts on this volume.
The substance of what Ehrman states in his 2011 work is reproduced in this book. However, there is one major aspect that needs to be underlined – Ehrman’s contention that forgery was as unacceptable in the ancient world as it is today.
One might rejoin that this should be obvious, but to many scholars it is not. Indeed, in this volume, Ehrman is not only attacking conservative views of the Bible, as is his wont, but also a major liberal tenet that pseudonymity – the use of someone else’s name in authorship of a work – was not an issue in the ancient world.
Of course, conservatives have been saying for a long time that this was essentially an act of identity theft, an unethical deceit. Startlingly, considering his usual attacks on conservative scholarship, Ehrman agrees with this analysis.
Stand in the streams?
Ehrman quotes the usual liberal defence of pseudonymity – that it was not an attempt to deceive, but rather a claim ‘to stand within the authoritative streams of tradition’ (p. 39). That is, the doctrine of the writer is that of the person he claims to be. Of course, this becomes problematic when different works which contradict each other are ascribed to the same author! At any rate, Ehrman asserts – rightly – that the aim in using the name of some person is to claim his authority. What gives the work authority is that it is ascribed to someone like Peter, as with the so-called Apocalypse of Peter (p.42). In this respect, it is no different from someone claiming the identity of a person in order to utilise his authority to empty a bank account!
Apart from the moral criticism of pseudo-nymity, Ehrman also demonstrates that it is unhistorical to suggest that it was acceptable practice in the ancient world. In fact, ‘the ancients were interested in knowing who actually wrote a literary work’ and address the issue ‘with striking frequency’, which Ehrman supports by referring to Herodotus, Aristotle, Pausanias and others. He shows that the early Christians felt the same way, noting objections by Athanasius and Jerome to letters falsely published in their names (pp.82-83). In short, the practice of pseudo-nymity was unacceptable and condemned in the ancient world, as much as it is today. To this, evangelicals can give a hearty amen!
New Testament books forged?
Had Ehrman stopped at this point, evangelicals could probably see his work as a useful contribution to issues of historicity – but he does not. He goes on to list various forgeries, which include Apocryphal works, but also the pastoral epistles, Hebrews, the Johannine epistles, the Petrine epistles, James, Jude, Acts of the Apostles – in fact, most of the New Testament. To address Ehrman’s contention would be beyond the capacity of an article – it would require a book. At any rate, the arguments presented – and their refutation – are nothing new. However, we may consider what he says about Mark and Luke. He regards their gospels as anonymous, and states that their attribution to these two figures is unsurprising – which, frankly, is itself a surprising argument.
Criteria of Embarrassment
In his other writings, Ehrman has referred to the academic Criteria of Embarrassment. When something negative is stated about a central figure, such as David in regard to the Uriah incident, there is no reason to believe that the event was unhistorical – after all, the writer would be more inclined to suppress it. Similarly, with Mark, why would the early church attribute this gospel to someone who was not an apostle, unless he did actually write it, as a result of his association with Peter? Also, consider what we read about him in Acts 13, how he deserted Saul and Barnabas on the first missionary journey and then was the cause of a breach between the two figures. Surely this is another reason against anyone falsely ascribing the work to Mark?
As for Luke, if we apply the same criteria, we might note that he was a Greek, not a Jew – how many first-century Jews would receive a Scripture written by a Gentile? Luke was not an apostle – but no one in the early church ever claimed that anyone but Luke wrote the gospel and Acts attached to his name. Luke freely acknowledges that he was not an eyewitness of Jesus (although he investigated the reports of those who were). Why would anyone want to invent his authorship?
Yet Ehrman obviously does not accept that Mark and Luke wrote the gospels in question. He also spends considerable space into debunking the authenticity of the Acts of the Apostles, sometimes using circular arguments – for example, the attribution of the book to Luke by Irenæus (c.180) is, for Ehrman, proof of the success of the writer’s ‘ploy’ in suggesting that he was an eyewitness of Paul (p.279).
Ehrman attacks the authenticity not only of 2 Peter – a standard liberal position – but also of 1 Peter and of James and Jude, for the common reason that the real figures would have been illiterate peasants, probably speaking only Aramaic, not knowing Greek in any measure. He cites studies suggesting that only three per cent of people in Roman Palestine were literate, but ignores other works arguing against this. More pointedly, he again refers to Acts 4:13 as suggesting that Peter was illiterate: ‘Now as they observed the confidence of Peter and John and understood that they were uneducated [agrammatoi], and untrained [‘idiōtai] men [literally, ‘common men’] …’ These words do not mean ‘unlearned and ignorant’ (as KJV). To be agrammatoi is to lack scribal training – opposite of grammateus, professional ‘scribe’. An ‘idiōtēs is one outside the group, i.e. of professional scribes and priests – a layman, not a priest.
Ignoring the obvious
He also thinks it unlikely that Peter knew Greek, yet the latter fished on the Sea of Galilee, bordered on the east by Greek-speaking areas. Ehrman suggests the same about James and Jude, yet he ignores the proximity of the Hellenistic city of Sepphoris to Nazareth. Further, when Joseph and Mary fled to Egypt, how did they communicate to the locals? It is most unlikely that either knew Coptic, but under the Ptolemies, Greek had been the state language and if, as is quite probable, the couple made for the Hellenistic city of Alexandria, with its huge Jewish community, what Greek they spoke would have improved by bounds. Yet Ehrman ignores this.
The essential problem with this book, of course, is that Muslim propagandists on the streets and on campuses will study and utilise its arguments. Yet most Christians are ill-equipped to answer them. This became obvious during the Olympics at Stratford in 2012 when they approached Christian evangelists there, challenging them about the identity, history and reliability of the NT authors, and the Christians were unable to answer. The problem is that rarely, if ever, do local churches teach their congregants – especially in Sunday schools and youth fellowships – about these issues, leaving young people in particular defenceless in the face of well-trained, large Islamic Societies at college and Muslim propagandists on the streets. So often such Muslims taunt: ‘You don’t know anything about Mark, Matthew, etc. Did they have good memories? Were they trustworthy? Did they speak Greek?’ In doing so, they can quote Ehrman to support their position.
It behoves local church leaders to remedy this situation by instructing their flocks in biblical historicity, canon and text to meet this challenge, and to show where Ehrman is less than convincing.
Dr Anthony McRoy
Helen Cowan tells her story of God’s grace in a very taxing situation
I’m married to Chris and have three grown-up children.
I have always had a special relationship with my Aunty Dorothy, spending every summer visiting her in Northumberland, very close to some of the most scenic parts of Hadrian’s Wall. She had never married and lived alone with her cat Marley for company – a very independent and extremely feisty woman.
Five years ago, in her mid-80s, it became obvious she was struggling to cope living on her own. She had developed dementia.
We managed her care for a period, from a distance with regular visits, but in 2010 a doctor told us she was frail and unlikely to survive another winter. My husband and I decided that I needed to go and stay with her to give full-time care. If this was to be her last year, we would at least try to give her the very best quality of life.
This was a sacrifice for my husband. I took a career break from my job in the library. I loved Aunty, and enjoyed being with her. I thought it would be fine. I would cope just great. In July 2010 I went North. God knew that as I went up there I was going to learn just what ‘caring’ for someone is like. Nothing and no amount of theory or love can prepare you for living with dementia.
Most of us joke about not remembering things and I’m sure many of us have moments of forgetfulness. But my aunt had no short term memory. It didn‘t take many days into her care to realize that her asking and me repeating myself 30 times an hour all day every day was not easy – especially when the questions were always the same.
The days dragged, and by 2pm I would think, ‘only eight hours before bed’. They were long afternoons and evenings. It was the most mentally exhausting, frustrating, torturous experience I had ever had. There were days the mental pressure would be so intense I felt as if my head would explode. I would escape to the bathroom and cry and plead with God to rescue me and help me. He did.
I walked my frustration out in the streets around the town. I went down to the river and reminded myself that God leads me by quiet waters. This would restore me. Sometimes I was invited in to a home for a drink and some normal conversation. I was surrounded by hills and wonderful scenery. Every day when I went shopping I thought of the passage that says my help comes from the Lord who created all this. And there were times when somehow I just got through, hour by hour.
My family, friends and fellowship were a tremendous support and I was very fortunate to receive regular visits from my husband and have some respite. Patience was difficult and at times, inwardly, I would be screaming: ‘Shut-up! I don’t want to have to tell you again’. God was searching out the deep places of my heart (Psalm 139.23-24), because patience was something I thought I had, until I was in the place where I needed it.
God’s dealings with me
It was as if God would say to me: ‘Helen, when you are suffering spiritual dementia, repeating the same mistakes, going over and over the same ground, don’t you need my patience, love, forgiveness and reassurance?’.
I needed his help and strength to share what he has given me in my life with my aunt, and also in the way I responded to her. He enabled me to do that, and I can tell you we didn’t just have bad days, but also lots and lots of great days.
Aunty’s antics at times made me laugh. One situation I didn’t find much humour in, though, and which drove me to distraction, was Marley, the cat. He was the love of my aunt’s life and the bane of mine. She would ask: ‘Where’s Marley’, and I would tell her, only for this conversation to be repeated again and again, hour after hour.
More was spent on his food than on the two of us. He had to be fed every time he moved. He was given the best seat. All the doors had to be left open, even in the middle of winter, so he could come and go as he pleased. The fire would be turned off in case he burnt his tail. And if at 4am in the morning he would meow outside my room, Aunty would let him in. There were times I could have killed that cat. Aunty worshipped Marley. She gave Marley love, devotion, adoration and attention. He was her first thought in the morning and was her last concern at night. I used to complain to the Lord about having to play second fiddle to a cat.
Looking at my own heart
He was searching my heart, and I clearly felt God say: ‘I know exactly what you mean about playing second fiddle’. I began to see the parallel in my own Christian walk to how Aunty was with Marley. I found myself looking at my own heart and asking: ‘Is that how I love the Lord? Do I give him the very best? Is Jesus my first thought and priority? Do I put him first in my life, above all other things?’.
God was going to search out my heart too concerning materialism. My aunt not only loved her cat but was very proud of her lovely house and possessions. She would fret about what was going to happen to them when she was no longer there.
To help her not worry, and because she couldn’t remember, I would have to read out the will she had made. I wasn’t mentioned in it. Despite what people may have thought, I was never a beneficiary. I was there out of a deep love for my aunt. Nevertheless, it was a stark reminder that there was no financial gain for me. I found it difficult and hurtful to be reminded of this continuously. I had to dig really deep and examine my heart and motives and talk to the Lord about this issue. I had to remind myself that I had chosen to trust God to be my provider.
A Scripture which really helped me was Luke 12.15: ‘Be on your guard against all kinds of greed, a man’s life is not measured by the abundance of possessions’.
As my aunt’s dementia worsened she would say to me ’what use are these things to me’ and on good days we were able to talk about Jesus and his gift of life. Sadly, however, she never responded.
What happened next
Nearly four years on, I can tell you my aunt survived that winter and the winters since. After full-time caring for three years I could not go on any further. The heartbreaking decision was made to move her. I had wanted to continue caring to the end of her life, but that was not possible. She went into a care home with a few ornaments and her clothes. Her house has been on the market and is not selling and is now worth half of what it was five years ago. Marley her cat died 18 months ago but she still asks: ‘Where’s Marley?’.
I’m home, back in the fellowship of the church, and unemployed. But I would not have swapped that three years for anything. They’ve been wonderful, emotional, painful and a steep learning curve. I am a work in progress and my years with Aunty were part of God’s work .
I learnt that the things we hold onto and value pass away. My treasure is not on this earth. I discovered that when your mind and body are weak and frail you may become afraid, as my aunt did. As I would try and comfort her, I found my God comforted and kept me, with his Word and promises. I have a saviour who promises he will be with me always, and that I am never alone.
In the dark moments I would worry and ask myself, what if I lose my mind, and if everything is stripped away, what will be left? What are the things I’ve stored up in my heart? For God’s Word says that out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks.
The most important thing I’ve learnt is that I have a faithful loving Father.
Helen is a member of Radcliffe Road Baptist Church, Bury in Lancashire.
Coldplay’s latest album, Ghost Stories, has been hitting the headlines.
There are three reasons. 1. It has become the fastest-selling UK album of the year. 2. The band signed an exclusive deal with iTunes meaning that the album was not available on free music streaming websites like Spotify. 3. In an impressive publicity stunt, the band created an international scavenger hunt by hiding handwritten lyrics from the album in libraries across the world.
The album itself has almost been lost in the chatter, but among fans who have been waiting for it for three years the response to the music is mixed. Those who know Coldplay for their buoyant, stadium-filling anthems have found it surprising. Aside from the album’s first single, ‘Magic’, and the penultimate track, ‘A Sky Full of Stars’, the songs are mellow and downbeat. For other fans, this is its strength: it’s a return to the soothing ‘bath rock’ music that appeared on the band’s first album, Parachutes, released in 2000. But Ghost Stories is not just ambient; it has more than a tinge of sadness, and with good reason.
It seems to be impossible to talk about Ghost Stories without mentioning the fact that it was it was released less than two months after the band’s frontman Chris Martin announced his ‘conscious uncoupling’ from his wife of ten years, the actress Gwyneth Paltrow. The couple, who have two children, announced their separation on Paltrow’s lifestyle website Goop. The article claimed amiably, ‘we have come to the conclusion that while we love each other very much we will remain separate’. It immediately drew criticism from people who objected to their euphemistic language. What did ‘unconscious uncoupling’ even mean?
Paltrow’s spiritual advisers, Dr Habib Sadeghi and Dr Sherry Sami, explain: ‘It seems ironic to say that a marriage coming apart is the cause of something else coming together, but it’s true. Conscious uncoupling brings wholeness to the spirits of both people who choose to recognise each other as their teacher. If they do, the gift they receive from their time together will neutralise their negative internal object that was the real cause of their pain in the relationship’.
Ghost Stories, which has repeatedly been dubbed a ‘breakup album’, is full of descriptions of this pain. Martin describes the art of songwriting as like keeping a diary, and the album is clearly very personal.
But Ghost Stories does not languish in depression. The album’s dramatic narrative moves on; by track eight there is a musical release and a lyrical turn to acceptance and joy. Speaking to the BBC, Martin explains: ‘What Ghost Stories means to me is you’ve got to open yourself up to love and, if you really do, of course it will be painful at times, but then it will be great at some point’. The album’s title also refers to this sense that you cannot let the ghosts of your past continue to haunt you. You have to move on and embrace the future.
More importantly, Martin’s great revelation in this album is that in order to live a satisfying life you have to let go of your fears and make yourself entirely vulnerable. You have to embrace everything life throws at you, whether happy or sad. You have to be completely honest. You have to be grateful for every moment, whatever it brings. Only in doing so can you find the capacity to love unconditionally and to experience deep-seated, euphoric joy. ‘I’m very proud of that message’, says Martin, who hopes that by listening to this album, fans will experience this soul-cleansing catharsis.
Listening to Martin talk about the album it’s clear that his ‘new approach to life’ does have a spiritual component. Perhaps it’s not surprising given his background. Paltrow raised their children as Jews in honour of her father, who was a rabbi. Martin himself was raised in a Catholic family, but subsequently turned to a combination of other faiths. He’s experimented with a range of religions, finally settling on the self-invented term ‘all-theist’ to describe his belief in all kinds of gods.
For Ghost Stories he consulted a teacher of Sufism, a mystical branch of Islam, who told him to let his negative experiences ‘alchemise’. The result was that the music on the album simply flowed through him, he claims. He’s conscious of sounding too New Age, but he says: ‘I’ve been given that gift from the universe, or from God, or whatever you want to believe in, that ideas for songs get sent through wherever they get sent from and then I take them to the rest of the band.
In the face of his heartbreak, Martin’s defiant response is to keep singing. He uses the album to declare that his spirit is not crushed: ‘If you were to ask me / After all that we’ve been through / ‘Still believe in magic?’ / Well yes I do / Of course I do!’ This sense of magic is a relief and a release, but only inasmuch as it points to a deeper, more freeing truth. A single true God does exist and he is a source of comfort, inspiration, joy, hope, healing and real, unconditional love. Martin may not have found him yet, but for us, whatever the trials of life, that really is something to keep believing in.
Rachel Thorpe writes the ‘Crossing the culture’ column for EN and works as an events planner and freelance writer in Cambridge. More of her articles can be found at www.rachelthorpe.com
Enjoy the following links!
Reasonable Faith – A great new way to offer apologetics in your church: Dr. Craig’s Defenders class streams LIVE each week!
Desiring God – Be ready to answer your kids questions about the Bible
Thom Rainer – 7 things I’ve learned from joyous pastors wives
The Good Book – 35% off ‘A praying life’ (offer ends 20/10/14)
A Faith to Live By – Advice to a gay couple with a child who became Christians
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The text, ‘be holy as I am holy’, is perhaps one of the most old-fashioned sounding in the Bible.
But it is newly alive with interpretative complexities. How are we to be holy? Can Christians be called to be holy? What is the most effective means by which Christians are urged towards holiness? Is it legalism to urge the use of the law in Christian discipleship? Are Christians supposed to put effort into their holiness?
Particularly amusing has been a minor debate taking place in the nether world of the internet as to whether Christians are actually sinners. Given that most would recognise that Christians are also regenerate and justified, it seems unlikely that any can deny seriously that Christians are nonetheless still liable to sin. If any do doubt it, they only need to observe the manner of debate on some blogs: there for all to see is this incontrovertible fact that Christians do indeed still sin.
It reminds me of the old story of Charles Spurgeon – I trust not entirely apocryphal. When at a conference listening to man saying he had attained sinless perfection, the next morning Spurgeon is said to have poured a jug of milk over his head. And watched his sinless perfection evaporate before his (and everyone else’s) eyes.
Of course that debate was different to this one. Then the debate was whether Christians could attain a state of sinless perfection through some higher experience, or an especially devoted yielding of themselves to God. Now the debate is as to the appropriate means towards holiness. It seems incontrovertible that the gospel encourages holiness (Romans 12.1: ‘… in view of God’s mercy… offer your bodies as living sacrifices’, meaning that considering the whole massive panoply of the gospel, – ‘God’s mercy’– we are to sacrifice ourselves for Jesus). It also seems incontrovertible that being called on to obey God is orthodox Christian teaching: much of the second half of Paul’s letters is in the imperative mood, if not literally always in the imperative tense. Yet it is not now solely a matter of will power – by the Spirit, as born again Christians, we are enabled to follow Jesus so we strive to do so. Perhaps Philippians 2.12-13 is the text that we all need to make a renewed effort to memorise, for its wonderful balance: ‘work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose’.
Or a refresher course on J.C. Ryle’s Holiness. Or, if his language from that long ago is a stretch or the book is too long in our soundbite age, at least the excellent The Pursuit of Holiness by Jerry Bridges. As J.I. Packer said of it, ‘The work is pure gold: be sensible, and invest in it’. Anyone fancy doing a reprint of the Bridges classic? Or another of Ryle, perhaps a summary version?
Better still, write a new one. Take Philippians 2 as your text. Work out what God works in.
Josh Moody is the senior pastor of College Church, Wheaton, Illinois.
Knights of the King is holiday club material produced by CEP (an Australian Evangelical Anglican youth publisher). The director’s pack contains all the material to run a week’s club for children aged 5-12, based on Matthew’s Gospel.
The theme is medieval, and we meet a knight who is trying to find the one true king to follow. The booklet has a teaching programme, timetables, crafts, drama, song suggestions, games, memory verses and Bible study material. The pack also contains a CD-ROM and DVD with animations, visual aids, powerpoints, publicity material and other printable resources.
In our church, we had grown tired of trying to use other off-the-peg holiday club material and editing it so heavily that all we really ended up using was the name! It was such a relief to discover this resource and find that we could use the Bible teaching as set out in the book because it is robustly evangelical and Jesus-centred. The teaching programme doesn’t play down sin and also includes a gospel overview (a sort of Two Ways to Live, but medieval style). What a joy to read that the aim of the whole week is ‘to explore Matthew’s Gospel and learn that Jesus is God’s great king who came to save us from our sins and whom we should follow all our lives’. I also found some of the advice really helpful – particularly on thinking about how to make the Sunday service at the end of the week effective for reaching families
Tweaking the Aussie
The material is Australian and occasionally needs to be tweaked for a UK audience (too many surfing jokes, and an assumption that you’ll get good weather!). But apart from minor changes, I would highly recommend this pack for any evangelical church looking for biblical holiday club material.
a Sunday School leader in a rural Anglican church in Devon