This is the fifth and final post in a series examining pop-apologist Heather Schuldt’s attempt to take down New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman. The four previous posts can be viewed here:
In this post we will be looking at Schuldt’s attempt to reconcile the seemingly divergent times recorded in the Gospel accounts surrounding Jesus’ death. At the end we will summarize the series, observing briefly the way Schuldt as a pop-apologist engages with the biblical texts and with biblical scholarship.
WHAT TIME WAS IT?
In the Gospel of Mark we are told that Jesus, having been arrested and tried before the religious authorities, is brought before Pilate on the morning which followed (Mark 15:1). Not long after we are told that Pilate has Jesus crucified. The specific time listed is hōra tritē, literally “the third hour” which the NRSV renders as “nine o’clock” (15:25). A few hours later darkness covers the land for three hours (Mark 15:33). The specific times listed are hōras hektēs, literally “the sixth hour” (NRSV, “noon”), and hōras enatēs, literally “the ninth hour” (NRSV, “three in the afternoon”). At enatē hōra, literally “the ninth hour” (NRSV, “three o’clock”) Jesus finally begins to die (15:34).
In the Gospel of John we are told that Jesus, having been arrested and tried before the religious authorities, is brought before Pilate on the morning which followed (John 18:28). Not long after we are told that Pilate has Jesus crucified (19:14). The specific time listed given is hōra…hōs hektē, literally “about the sixth hour” (NRSV, “about noon”). Sometime after this Jesus finally dies (19:30).
It is clear that by reading these accounts that they do not sync up at all. In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus had been crucified around 9am. But in John’s Gospel the crucifixion takes place around noon, well after what Mark reports. Interestingly, in some manuscripts of Mark 15:25 the word tritē is replaced with hektē in a bid to harmonize the Markan with the Johannine account while in some manuscripts of John 19:14 hektē is replaced with tritē in a bid to harmonize the Johannine account with the Markan account.1 Clearly later copyists noticed the discrepancy and tried to fix it.
How does Schuldt resolve this difficulty? She offers four points by which she means to rescue inerrancy. Let’s consider each in turn.
First of all, it is important to understand how they told time back then. Ehrman completely overlooks this historical time telling system. The first hour was at sunrise. The third hour was mid-morning. The sixth hour was mid-day. The ninth hour was mid-afternoon. The twelfth hour was twilight/sunset.2
Someone of Ehrman’s caliber hasn’t overlooked anything, and if he has then we can also blame evangelical scholars like Craig Evans for doing the same.3 Since the hours of the day were from sunrise to sunset and roughly twelve hours, Schuldt’s reckoning is correct. So the third hour was midmorning, commonly seen as 9am, the sixth hour was midday, roughly noon, and the ninth hour was midafternoon, roughly 3pm.
Next she writes,
Second, try not using a modern clock for just one month and see if you can figure out when it is 10:30 AM and when it is 11 AM. The point is that it is difficult to distinguish between the end of the third hour and the beginning of the sixth hour.
This is almost comical. Rather than read the text as we have it, Schuldt has to shift goals and avoid the obvious. Furthermore, she is missing the very reason John has changed Mark’s “third hour” (9am) to “about the sixth hour” (noon). In John’s Gospel, Jesus is “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). By changing Mark’s 9am to noon, John aligns the crucifixion of the “Lamb of God” with the time when the sacrificial lambs were slaughtered in the temple! Pilate’s words coupled with the sending off of Jesus to be crucified shows that “Jesus is the true paschal lamb, about to suffer death at the appropriate hour of the appropriate day for the life of his people.”4 John, therefore, is portraying Jesus in a particular way, a way different from how Mark is portraying him.
Next, Schuldt says,
Third, the third hour might have included anything from 9 AM-11 AM, which is the accepted time frame of when Jesus was crucified. John was not wrong when he said it was “about” the sixth hour. He was estimating.
The assumption here is that the author of John’s Gospel was an eyewitness to the event. He wasn’t. And if she accepts inerrancy she would need to believe that none of the disciples were present at the crucifixion as Mark makes abundantly clear (Mark 14:26-31, 50-52). Her claim that John was “estimating” is just apologetic posturing with no exegetical warrant.
Finally, she says,
Fourth, the two accounts actually give us more information that the time must have been closer to the beginning of the sixth hour, closer at the end of the third hour, and not during the beginning of the third hour.
This is absolutely bewildering. The Markan text makes it clear that “as soon as it was morning” the religious authorities discuss taking Jesus to Pilate which they then do (Mark 15:1). The next time marker tells us that it was 9am when he was crucified, not about 9am (15:25). Then we are told that at noon darkness comes over the land until 3pm at which time Jesus begins to die (Mark 15:33-34). If all you had was Mark’s Gospel then you wouldn’t think, “Well, maybe it was around 11am when he was actually crucified.” No, you would think that he was crucified at 9am. Schuldt has to resort to hermeneutical gymnastics to avoid the obvious.
Schuldt resorts again to very contrived explanations to rescue inerrancy. She has forced an explanation that just doesn’t work. And it is one that ruins what John was trying to do in his version of events.
In the final analysis, then, we need not be concerned with whether the Johannine version is more correct at the level of “history” [than the Synoptic version]. It is not a claim about history at all, but about the theological significance of the death of Jesus as understood within the Johannine community. Nor is it necessary – or even possible – to force the Johannine chronology to fit that of the Synoptics. To do so would destroy the entire effect of the Johannine story. In other words, unless the audience allows the Johannine author to change the story in these significant ways, the all-important Johannine message regarding Jesus’ death – and the image of Jesus as the Lamb of God – cannot come through.5
Schuldt, with her eisegetical tendencies, has disrespected not only the texts themselves but the communities for which they were written. They were telling their story about Jesus, not the one of later harmonies. For them, it was less about the historical sequence and more about the meaning of the events of Jesus’ death. She’s missed it.
As was the case with SJ Thomason, Heather Schuldt shows all the signs of the quintessential pop-apologist: ignorance of basic scholarship, the inability to pay attention to the way texts are written, and the assumption that their knowledge on a little translates to knowledge about a lot. Whatever one may think about Ehrman, there is no doubt that he is an expert in his field and to claim otherwise is (as I’ve said before) the height of hubris. What books has Schuldt written? Where has she been published? How long has she trained in biblical languages? Where does she teach?
But you will observe that in my response to Schuldt I didn’t resort to this kind of argument from authority. Instead, I presented the relevant data and I tried to do so while engaging with actual scholarship as well as the biblical texts directly. Meanwhile, Schuldt has provided 1) no evidence for the early dating of the Gospels, 2) no evidence for traditional authorship of the Gospels, 3) no reason to think the oral tradition behind the Gospels wasn’t malleable, 4) no exegetical reason to think that John and Mark agree on the Seder meal and the Passover, and 5) no appreciation for the way John’s Gospel was written with regards to the hour of Jesus’ crucifixion.
One of the utter failings of Schuldt’s approach is that she does not appreciate the Gospels for what they are. They were never intended to be read as snapshots of Jesus. The Synoptic Problem reveals this clearly. Instead, the Gospels were intended to be portraits of Jesus. The late New Testament scholar Robert Guelich wrote that
the presence of four distinctive gospels demands that each be taken seriously with its own divinely inspired message. Harmonization that obliterates the distinctiveness of the four gospels in the interest of reconstructing the life and teachings of Jesus can actually distort the plain meaning of the text. To read the four gospels as an unscrambled Diatessaron misses the genius of having four distinct gospels.6
I do not share in Guelich’s view on inspiration but I do share in his view that the Gospel authors were writing distinct accounts of Jesus’ life and that any subsequent attempts to harmonize them “obliterates the distinctiveness of the four gospels.” Yet obliterate Schuldt does when she tries to force the texts to align. Her high view of the doctrine of inerrancy results in a very low view of the biblical texts and serves as a parable for those seeking to understand the Gospel accounts: she is like one stumbling in the dark, putting together four different puzzles that portray four different images. Such attempts at harmonization result in fifth kind of Gospel, one derived from all four Gospels, but also one that has so distorted these portraits of Jesus that he is not even recognizable. Instead of a portrait of Jesus, Schuldt’s technique results in something far more abstract and far less interesting.
Schuldt reminds me of myself when I was younger and had received a lot of information about topics that I was interested in but lacked the conceptual framework with which to harness it. As a result, I was running with arguments rather than learning to walk or to even crawl with them. Schuldt is a student as Southern Evangelical Seminary in their graduate program of apologetics. No doubt in her classes she has been receiving a lot of information. But the way apologetics works is to confirm biases, not question them. And so she is being trained not to think critically. Therefore all the information they give her is filtered through particular views of the Bible that simply do not align with the biblical texts themselves. With what she’s learned she ends up being like a bull in a china shop and ends up absolutely wrecking the biblical texts. She certainly thinks she is defending the Bible but in reality she has done it a disservice. And frankly, SES has done a disservice to her and all their students.
One thing that cannot be overemphasized is that apologists like Schuldt simply do not spend very much time in the biblical texts. Rather, they spend a considerable amount of time in texts other than the biblical texts. But if you want to understand the Bible then spending large amounts of time in the Bible is indispensable. This may seem obvious but so often it isn’t to those who claim to actually believe the Bible in all it says. I saw this when I was an evangelical and I continue to see it as an atheist: the people of the Book have no appreciation of the Book because they don’t read the Book.
Maybe Schuldt will learn her lesson. But I have a feeling she won’t.
1 See Bruce Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the New Testament, second edition (Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 1994), 99, 216.
2 Heather M. Schuldt, “5 Examples Why Bart Ehrman Is Not a Gospel Expert” (10.17.18), Ladyapologist.com. Accessed 8 Nov 2018.
3 See Craig A. Evans, Mark 8:27-16:20, WBC vol. 34b (Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2001), 503.
4 FF Bruce, The Gospel and Epistles of John (Eerdmans 1983), 365.
5 L. Michael White, Scripting Jesus: The Gospels in Rewrite (HarperOne, 2010), 16.
6 Robert A. Guelich, “The Gospels: Portraits of Jesus and His Ministry,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society (June, 1981), 121. Accessed 9 November 2018.
Featured image: Wikimedia Commons.