It never ceases to amaze me the lengths to which the inerrancy crowd will go to in order to defend a position “the Bible” never even makes for itself. The worst offenders are by far pop-apologists; people like J Warner Wallace, Hugh Ross, Frank Turek, and SJ Thomason. Whether it’s somehow thinking a “forensic” reading of the Gospels attests to their reliability (Wallace) or believing that the biblical texts contain advanced scientific knowledge (Ross), invariably you end up with nothing short of eisegesis and absolutely no appreciation for what the biblical texts actually are and how they function. But for many in the inerrancy crowd, it is an all-or-nothing kind of situation. Either the Bible is the word of God without error or it is a worthless collection of texts that should be abandoned altogether. Such an inability to appreciate nuance is a hallmark of fundamentalism and on inerrancy these believers are most certainly of the fundamentalist clade.
To defend inerrancy, pop-apologists will at times refer to critical scholarship.1 But often their appeal to them is either highly selective (i.e. quotemining) or misrepresentative.2 Often this comes from a kind of shallowness that plagues apologetics generally and is encouraged tacitly from the top-tier of apologists. What it reveals is not only a lack of scholarly rigor but also a kind of intellectual laziness. For example, if you have read anything by SJ Thomason you will have no doubt noticed how infrequently she cites biblical scholars, this despite the fact that she has a PhD (though in an unrelated field) and has access to a college library which surely must have a wide array of works from brilliant women and men who have devoted their lives to reading, appreciating, and analyzing the Bible. Many of them are Christians who either have a far more nuanced view of inerrancy or abandon it altogether in the face of reality. In either case, they do not hitch their wagon of Christianity to the horse of inerrancy and the result is frankly quite relieving. Inerrancy is as tired and unimaginative as it is facile.
A Frequent Target
It is perhaps a truism that if you do see a pop-apologist quote from critical scholarship it will more than likely come from Bart Ehrman, an agnostic who finds inerrancy absurd but still manages to love and appreciate the biblical texts. Ehrman, a college professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, is a prolific author having composed not only popular level works for public consumption (i.e. Misquoting Jesus, How Jesus Became God, The Triumph of Christianity etc.) but also more technical volumes (i.e. The Text of the New Testament [with Bruce Metzger], Forgery and Counterforgery, etc.). Ehrman’s personal religious beliefs coupled with his scholarly contributions make him a frequent target for pop-apologists. It is no doubt lost to them that many Christians find much of Ehrman’s work convincing even though they don’t align with his skepticism of theism.
Recently I was alerted to a video produced in June of 2017 that features pastor and pop-apologist Mike Winger taking on commentary from Ehrman on how the Markan and Lukan authors portray Jesus at his death.3 Ehrman contends that the two accounts offer readers two very different visions of Jesus at the end. Here is a shot of Winger’s video that features two quotes from Ehrman.
So Ehrman’s view is that whereas in Mark’s Gospel Jesus goes to his death unsure of why it is happening, in Luke’s Gospel his concern is not about his own fate but about “the women.” It is difficult to assess the context in which Ehrman said these exact words as the clip from Winger doesn’t provide it. But fortunately we need not look too far for something Ehrman has said that is along these lines. Let’s consider some context before we look at how Ehrman views the Markan and Lukan death scenes.
“Attacking” the Bible
In 2009 HarperOne published Ehrman’s book Jesus Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (And Why We Don’t Know About Them).4 As the title suggests, the volume was intended to show that the biblical texts are replete with contradictions. But that isn’t where the book begins. The first chapter explains Ehrman’s personal journey from evangelicalism to agnosticism. But that chapter concludes by telling the reader what Jesus Interrupted is about.
This book is not, then, about my loss of faith. It is, however, about how certain kinds of faith – particularly the faith in the Bible as the historically inerrant and inspired Word of God – cannot be sustained in light of what we as historians know about the Bible.5
It is very clear then that Ehrman has no intention of attacking the Bible despite Winger’s eccentric claim that Ehrman is “the premier attacker of the Bible in the world right now” (00:13-00:17). Ehrman isn’t attacking the Bible but a particular belief that some hold about it.
In chapter three of Jesus Interrupted – entitled “A Mass of Variant Views” – Ehrman notes that “discrepancies in the Bible are important because they force us to take each author seriously”6 and that “[m]any of the differences among the biblical authors have to do with the very heart of their message.”7 Statements like these should not be surprising and they are certainly not original to Ehrman. Since the second-century, Christians have sought to explain why the canonical Gospels are often so different from one another despite each claiming to tell the story of the same historical figure. The “Synoptic Problem,” as scholars have dubbed it, is still a topic of research and writing.8 That the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke exhibit some kind of literary interdependence is virtually beyond dispute. It is only a kind of willful ignorance that would deny it.
Yet deny it many will. Pop-apologists harmonize the Gospels in a very artificial manner. Consequently they reveal that they aren’t serious about the biblical texts but about what they believe about them. Ehrman writes that
Mark, whatever his real name was, had no idea that his book would be put into a collection with three other books and called Scripture; and he certainly did not think that his book should be interpreted in light of what some other Christian would write some thirty years later in a different country and a different context. Mark no doubt wanted his book to be read and understood on its own, as did Matthew, Luke, John, and all the other writers of the New Testament.9
This is the reason a critical approach to the biblical texts is so necessary: it allows the authors to have their own voice, independent of what other authors have said on similar topics. And what we know from reading these texts is that they weren’t dispassionate memoirs of eyewitnesses but rather creative authors writing to the needs of specific communities in specific contexts.10
In Ehrman’s discussion on Jesus’ death in Mark’s Gospel it helps to know that he – like the overwhelming majority of New Testament scholars – adheres to Markan priority. Specifically, Ehrman subscribes to the “Four-Source Hypothesis” which claims the following.
- Mark’s Gospel was the first of the canonical Gospels to have been written.
- Both Matthew and Luke used Mark’s Gospel in composing their own.
- In addition to Mark’s Gospel, both Matthew and Luke had access to a work no longer extant that scholars refer to as “Q.” Q was primarily a sayings source and accounts for those passages that are found in both Matthew and Luke but not in Mark.
- In addition to Mark’s Gospel and Q, Matthew had access to a source or sources for those elements in his Gospel that are not in Mark, Q, or Luke. Similarly, Luke had access to a source or sources for those elements in his Gospel that are not in Mark, Q, or Matthew. The Matthean source is dubbed “M” and the Lukan source is dubbed “L.”11
What this means is that when we see stories from Mark repeated in Matthew or Luke and we see that they differ from Mark’s version we can immediately recognize that Matthew and Luke must have had a reason for doing so. If they didn’t, why change the original at all? Let’s consider an illustration from the Gospel of Matthew.
In Mark 1:32-34 we read a Markan summary report:
That evening, at sunset, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. And the whole city was gathered around the door. And he cured may who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.
Compare this to the Matthean version from Matthew 8:16:
That evening they brought to him many who were possessed with demons; and he cast out the spirits with a word, and cured all who were sick.
What has Matthew done to the Markan text? Well, he has done a number of things. Here are the highlights.
- Matthew has eliminated Mark’s wonky “[t]hat evening at sunset” (literally, “And when evening came, at sunset”) for the far simpler “[t]hat evening” (literally, “And when evening came”).
- Matthew has eliminated the Markan reference to the “whole city” being gathered around the door to the home (Mark 1:33). Instead, this large group seeking Jesus in Mark becomes the “great crowds” (Matthew 8:18) that prompt him to leave in his boat for “the country of the Gadarenes” (8:28).
- Matthew has completely removed Mark’s comment that Jesus “would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him” (1:34). But why? Because the secrecy motif that is found throughout Mark’s Gospel is largely rejected by Matthew.
You cannot chalk this up to differences in eyewitness testimony. It is very clear that the author of Matthew’s Gospel was using Mark’s Gospel when composing his own. The changes, therefore, are intentional. Indeed, the work of Matthew as a redactor is seen clearly by simply reading Mark’s Gospel and then reading Matthew’s. And why make changes?
Matthew…recognized some of [the Gospel of Mark’s] inadequacies in helping his community to respond to the challenges, opportunities, and attacks with which it was trying to cope. The burning issues with which Matthew and his community were struggling were simply not identical to those that had concerned Mark and his church.12
So what does Matthew do? He alters Markan syntax and vocabulary. He even rearranges stories so that they fit a slightly different narrative. He alters Markan style and eliminates repetition. He even does away with important Markan themes like the secrecy motif. And all because Mark’s Gospel needed a revision for the Matthean community.
The Death of Jesus in Mark’s Gospel
Let us now return to the question of why Ehrman thinks the Markan and Lukan version of Jesus’ death are so different. Given Ehrman’s position that Luke was using Mark when writing his Gospel, let’s start with Mark’s account from Ehrman’s viewpoint. In Jesus Interrupted he writes,
In Mark’s version of the story (Mark 15:16-39), Jesus is condemned to death by Pontius Pilate, mocked and beaten by the Roman soldiers, and taken off to be crucified. Simon of Cyrene carries his cross. Jesus says nothing the entire time. The soldiers crucify Jesus, and he still says nothing. Both of the robbers being crucified with him mock him. Those passing by mock him. The Jewish leaders mock him. Jesus is silent until the very end, when he utters the wretched cry, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani,” which Mark translates from the Aramaic for his readers as, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Someone gives Jesus a sponge with sour wine to drink. He breathes his last and dies.13
Nothing in Ehrman’s description of Mark 15:16-39 misrepresents the story in any way. The last words Jesus speaks in the Gospel of Mark are what we read in 15:34. And it is fitting. Ehrman writes that the reason Jesus speaks these words – words clearly drawn from Psalm 22:1 – is because he
has been rejected by everyone: betrayed by one of his own, denied three times by his closest follower, abandoned by all his disciples, rejected by the Jewish leaders, condemned by the Roman authorities, mocked by the priests, the passersby, and even by the two others being crucified with him. At the end he even feels forsaken by God Himself.14
But Winger doesn’t think that the so-called “cry of dereliction” is a sign that Jesus feels abandoned by God. He says,
Bart thinks that Jesus crying out “My God, why have you forsaken me” is Jesus saying, “See, I’m confused, I don’t know what’s going on, and I’m in total despair. This is a whole different issue as he ignores Psalm 22 which is what Jesus is quoting. He’s drawing attention to Psalm 22 which is [sic] completely changes your interpretation of what Jesus is saying. He’s actually saying, “I’m the Messiah, fulfilling this psalm and I’m suffering and yet God will answer me and I will rise and all this glorious stuff” (01:15-01:43).
However, Winger’s view is not only factually wrong but it is also eisegetical in many ways.
First, Winger asserts that by quoting from Psalm 22:1 that Jesus is “drawing attention to Psalm 22 which…completely changes your interpretation of what Jesus is saying.” But this is problematic because the people present to hear those words don’t understand him as referring to Psalm 22 at all. They think he’s calling for Elijah to come rescue him! (Mark 15:35-36) This confusion is perhaps the epitome of the Markan theme of misunderstanding. Furthermore, there are opposite elements at work, for the people think Jesus is expecting to be miraculously rescued from the cross whereas what Jesus actually cried was that he wouldn’t be rescued because he had been forsaken by God.
Second, there is no exegetical reason to think that Jesus would be drawing attention to the entirety of Psalm 22 just by quoting from its opening line anymore than his direct quoting of Zechariah 13:7 in Mark 14:27 is intended to draw attention to the prophetic utterance of Yahweh that he would “turn [his] hand against the little ones [i.e. children]” and would kill off “two-thirds” of his people” (Zechariah 13:7, 8). What the Markan Jesus appears to be doing is something akin to prooftexting. And the context shows it is part of Mark’s intention to portray people as frequently misunderstanding Jesus.
Third, Ehrman doesn’t ignore Psalm 22 when he discusses this issue and Winger would know that if he had bothered to read Ehrman’s work on this rather than whatever it is he is referring to in the video. Ehrman wrote this,
A very popular interpretation of this passage is that since Jesus quotes Psalm 22:1, he is actually thinking of the ending of the Psalm, where God intervenes and vindicates the suffering psalmist. I think this is reading way too much into the passage and robs the “cry of dereliction,” as it is called, of all its power.15
Ehrman is not alone in thinking this. Evangelical scholar Craig Evans notes that while perhaps Jesus had the entirety of Psalm 22 in mind when he quoted its first verse,
the reality of his sense of abandonment must not be minimized. Jesus has not lost his faith in God, as the twofold address, ‘My God, my God,” implies, but he feels utterly abandoned.16
Similarly, the late RT France wrote of Jesus’ words in Mark 15:34,
This is the third time [Mark] has given us Jesus’ words in Aramaic as well in Greek translation, once when exercising divine power over death (5:41), and here and in 14:36 in direct appeal to God in prayer. But this time the contrast with 14:36 is striking: there he could call God Father, and loyally accepted his Father’s will; here (for the only time in Jesus’ recorded prayers in all four gospels) he calls him not Father but ὁ θεός μου, and his ‘prayer’ is one of bewilderment and separation…. While ὁ θεός μου expresses a continued relationship with God, it is a relationship that feels like abandonment. It is of course true that Ps. 22, having begun on this note of despair, concludes twenty verses later in hope and thanksgiving, but Jesus echoed not the latter part of the psalm but its opening, and to read into these few tortured words an exegesis of the whole psalm is to turn upside down the effect which Mark has created by this powerful and enigmatic cry of agony.17
We need not belabor the point with further citations. It suffices to say that Ehrman is not alone in his understanding of the Markan text and its meaning. Though an agnostic, he fits well into the stream of what evangelicals like Evans and France have written on the text. And France, for all intents and purposes, describes Winger’s approach as eisegesis. I cannot help but agree.
So what we have established then is that Ehrman’s view isn’t out of the ordinary and it in fact works well within the Markan story. As further evidence of this is the darkness that comes over the land for three hours (Mark 15:33). Such darkness is also associated with eschatological judgment elsewhere (Mark 13:24) and is perhaps intended by Mark to recall the words of Jesus in the Olive Discourse.18 Mark’s work as a creative author cannot be ignored.
The Death of Jesus in Luke’s Gospel
We now turn our attention to the Lukan account of Jesus’ death (Luke 23:26-49) and Ehrman’s view on it. Ehrman writes that the changes Luke has made to the story “affect the very way the story is told and, as a result, the way the story is to be interpreted.”19 He then notes that some differences between the Markan and Lukan versions, some of which are insignificant but others that display distinctively Lukan themes. In keeping with the quote from Ehrman presented in Winger’s video we read the following:
In Luke, Jesus is taken off to be executed, and Simon of Cyrene is compelled to carry his cross. But Jesus is not silent on the way to his crucifixion. En route he sees a number of women wailing over what is happening to him, and he turns to them and says, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children” (Luke 23:28). He goes on to prophesy the coming destruction they will face. Jesus does not appear to be in shock over what is happening to him. He is more concerned with others around him than with his own fate.20
Whereas Winger would have us gloss over this difference between the Markan and Lukan Gospels, we should be wondering why Luke portrays Jesus this way. Why does he stop on the way to where he will be crucified to speak to these women? To answer that question we must consider how Luke portrays Jesus generally.
While debate is ongoing as to the identity of the Lukan author, there is no doubt that he was well-educated and well-read. The opening dedication (Luke 1:1-4) is stylized, following “the conventions of Hellenistic historical works,”21 and is perhaps a Lukan appeal to more literate readers.22 But beginning in 1:5, there is a significant shift from the more literary Greek to a Semitic Greek that resembles the LXX.23 Thus Luke is setting his story of Jesus in the literary world of the LXX. While this might suggest that Luke is writing for a Jewish audience only, it is quite clear that his Jesus belongs to the whole world and not simply the Jews. In the Lukan Gospel, the machinations of the Roman government bring Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem where Jesus is born. But whereas in Matthew Jesus is the one who “will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21), in Luke’s Gospel the birth of Jesus is celebratory and for the whole world (Luke 2:14). In other words, Jesus doesn’t just belong to the Jews.
There is also material unique to Luke that highlight his role as a sage. For example, in Luke 2:41-52 we read a story of a twelve-year-old Jesus wandering off during Passover only to be found by his parents three days later in the temple sitting amongst teachers. That story ends with Luke telling his readers that “Jesus increased [proekopten] in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor” (2:52). The verb prokoptein is used “[a]mong moral philosophers…for growth in the moral and intellectual life.”24 And the episode itself is one that would have been familiar to those readers of classical Greek works.
A Hellenistic reader of biographies would not…be surprised at an account concerning the hero’s [i.e. Jesus] youth that gave a glimpse of his future. Such stories can be found, for example, in Philostratus’ Life of Apollonius of Tyano, 1:7-8, and in Philo’s Life of Moses, 1:21.25
This theme only builds in the Gospel of Luke and Jesus is portrayed as a kind of philosopher king who is both messiah and social critic, sovereign and sage.26 The result is that when we come to the Passion narrative, we do not have a Jesus who hours previous was “distressed and agitated” (Mark 15:33) but one who is resolute, having already “set his face to go to Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51). Luke creates an entire travel narrative (i.e. 9:51-19:27) that is not found in either Mark or Matthew that shows Jesus’ character in his roles as prophet, philosopher, and messiah.27
Luke goes out of his way to make it clear that Jesus is innocent of all charges made against him and that his death is a grave injustice. Pilate has no desire to execute him (23:4) and when he finds out that Jesus was from Galilee he sent him to Herod (23:6-7), a story missing from the Markan Gospel. When he is returned to Pilate, the Roman authority reiterates that he does not neither he nor Herod find him guilty of anything worthy of death and decides to release him (23:17). It is only at the insistence of the religious authorities that Pilate grants their request that Jesus be crucified (23:18-25). And while Jesus hangs upon the cross, a criminal crucified next to him orders Jesus to rescue them both. But another criminal tells him, “[W]e indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong” (23:41). And when he breathes his last, the centurion – who in Mark in the same scene declares Jesus to be “God’s Son” (Mark 15:39) – declares, “Certainly this man was innocent” (23:47).
Why this stressing of Jesus’ innocence? Because it fits well into the portrayal of Jesus as the sage who dies a heroic death.
For the outsider, Jesus comes off as more of a philosopher and founder of a philosophical school in the Greek tradition of Socrates, Diogenes, or Pythagoras. As social critic and martyr, he undergoes a heroic death that attests to the truth of his insights and his cause. As divine man, he expounds a philosophy that offers divine guidance and mystical insights to the human condition and speaks to the whole world.28
The Lukan Jesus, then, knows what his mission is and knows his death is not without profit. So when he sees the women “wailing for him” he must speak to their need rather than to his own. He knows that the consequences upon the Jewish religious authorities for spilling innocent blood will be severe and will result in the destruction of Jerusalem and her temple (23:28-31).
Luke continues to portray Jesus as the sage and prophet. Even as he goes toward his death, he can “turn toward” the women and deliver his somber prediction: he is capable even in this moment of greatest vulnerability to perceive the large meaning of events and declare them: the violence done to him the messenger of peace, will be visited on those who do this violence, and in such terrible fashion that even the innocent will suffer as a result.29
And it is with such a view of the bigger picture Jesus is able to say with great confidence not “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me” (Mark 15:34) but rather “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit” (Luke 23:46). Ehrman writes,
This is not a Jesus who feels forsaken by God and wonders why he is going through this pain of desertion and death. It is a Jesus who feels God’s presence with him and is comforted by the fact that God is on his side. He is fully cognizant of what is happening to him and why, and he commits himself to the loving care of his heavenly Father, confident of what is to happen next.30
The Markan Jesus and the Lukan Jesus could not be more different.
Does Ehrman Misrepresent Mark?
Nevertheless, Winger is convinced that not only is Ehrman wrong but that he is misrepresenting Mark. He marshals a number of Markan texts in support: Mark 14:18, 14:21, 14:22-25, 14:27-28, 14:41-42, 14:48-49, and 14:62. Winger concludes that Jesus “knows what’s going on, he knows he’s not permanently forsaken” (05:53-05:57) and that skeptics like Ehrman are “really bad at theology” (06:11). Is this true? I do not think that it is.
Let’s consider a very moving scene from Mark’s Gospel that Winger only draws from as a prooftext for his rebuttal to Ehrman: Mark 14:32-42. Jesus and the disciples have gone to Gethsemane so that he can pray. The Markan author tells us that Jesus “began to be distressed and agitated” and tells Peter, James, and John, “I am deeply grieved, even to death” (14:33, 34). Then Jesus prays to God, “Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want” (14:36). Jesus does not want to drink from the cup the Father has for him.
Contrast the Markan scene with the Lukan (Luke 22:39-46) and you see some interesting differences. For example, nowhere is Jesus’ emotional state described. Luke omits it entirely! Instead, it is the disciples who are experiencing grief such that it causes them to sleep (22:35). That fact alone is interesting because it is a reversal of the Markan motif of the disciples lack of understanding of what will happen. In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus’ is emotional because of what will soon happen while the disciples are fast asleep without a care in the world since they have no clue what’s going on. In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus is not emotional because he has great confidence in the Father’s will while the disciples are so grieved that they have fallen asleep!
The significance of this difference cannot be ignored. Nor can the Markan scene’s significance be downplayed within the context of the Markan Gospel. One the narrative level, the author has done something rather subversive. Sharyn Down observes,
As we have seen, the narrator has influenced the audience to abandon their identification with the hapless disciples and to identify instead with Jesus, who appears to have everything under control. Arriving at Gethsemane, Jesus leaves most of the disciples behind and takes with him Peter, James, John, and the audience. At this point the audience learns, to their shock and horror, that his emotional distress over his impending passion is enough to kill him right there on the spot (14:33b-34). Leaving the three with the admonition to keep alert, Jesus goes on a little further alone – except for the audience, who have no choice but to follow, dragged along by the omniscient narrator. Now, the Markan Jesus throws himself the ground and begs for a way out of his assignment to suffer and die.
So it turns out that the narrator has betrayed the audience. Jesus has not dealt in advance with the tension between God’s miracle-working power and the necessity of Jesus’ suffering. And unlike the snoring disciples, the audience is forced to watch Jesus’ agonized struggle with the God who is at the same moment wielder of unlimited power, trusted abba, and the source of Jesus’ assignment to experience unspeakable agony “for many.”31
So while Winger is generally correct that Jesus knows that he will “undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again” (Mark 8:31), this scene in Gethsemane reveals that the Markan Jesus is not fully convinced of his mission. It is true that true that Jesus submits to the Father’s desires for him (Mark 14:36) but even then “[t]he prayer of submission does not replace the prayer for divine intervention; rather, it accompanies it.”32
Luke’s reworking of the scene is instructive on this point and we may observe two significant alterations. First, the Markan scene had included as introduction to the prayer of Mark 14:36 an explanation by Mark of the meaning of the prayer: he “prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him” (Mark 14:35). There is no confusion then as to what is going on: Jesus wants “the hour [to] pass from him.” But Luke has dropped the words of Mark 14:35 completely.
Second, the prayer of Jesus in Mark 14:36 is longer than what we find in Luke. Let’s compare the two.
|omit||if you are willing,|
|for you all things are possible;||omit|
|remove this cup from me;||remove this cup from me;|
|yet not what I want, but what you want.”||yet, not my will but yours be done.”|
Luke has omitted entirely Jesus’ reference to God as “Abba” (Aramaic for “father”) as well as his statement that “for you [God] all things are possible.” More importantly, Luke has modified the words of the Markan Jesus. In Mark, Jesus employs an imperative of entreaty when he prays for God to “remove [parenenke] this cup from” him.33 As since in the imperative mood an aorist tense verb like parenenke would create a sense of urgency,34 it seems that Jesus is begging for his fate to be changed. Mark’s Jesus wants out of the situation now. Luke too employs the imperatival parenenke but he softens the blow a bit by turning the Markan Jesus’ imperative of entreaty into the apodosis of a first-class conditional sentence, i.e., “If you are willing [protasis] then remove this cup from me [apodosis].” Undoubtedly, there is a sense of trepidation of going to his fate but it is nowhere near as pronounced as the Markan Jesus’s words and is more in keeping with the noble hero’s death we find in Luke.
The changes Luke has made help to highlight just what was going on in the Markan text. In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus is well aware of his fate: he is to be betrayed and handed over to the religious authorities and killed. Yes, he is to be raised by God from the dead but in Gethsemane he isn’t requesting that the cup of resurrection be taken away but the cup of suffering. So then Jesus knows what his fate is but he is still very reluctant to face it.
So what does this have to do with the cry of dereliction in Mark 15:34? Well, it sets up for us the emotional context in which that cry is made. It makes sense of the anguish that comes from Jesus’ lips right before he dies. The Markan Jesus doesn’t want to die and in the midst of his agony he feels as if God himself has abandoned him. The cup that he did not want to drink he drank. And as the bitterness of that cup spilled out he did not understand why he had to drink from it.
Ehrman has not missed the context. He has not misrepresented Mark. Rather, he is offering a view that is faithful to the text and takes into account pivotal scenes in it. Winger’s approach, on the other hand, is necessarily flippant since it does not take seriously how Mark and Luke wrote they way they did. Instead, Winger harmonizes texts that were never intended to be harmonized. The numerous changes Luke has made to the Markan text reveal this fact. One doesn’t rearrange material, smooth grammatical issues, remove redundancy, and add pericopes if one believes what has been written previously is inspired by God or sufficient. Indeed, it seems that with his modifications that he must not have viewed Mark’s Gospel as “an orderly account” of Jesus’ life and ministry (Luke 1:1, 3).
Winger needs to harmonize because he cannot abide varying view points. But he thus fails to appreciate that the Gospel authors were just that: authors. They wrote with material they had, invented material they didn’t, and revised what they needed to in order to conform it to their views and the views of those in their communities. “There are no sources that give us the ‘unvarnished truth,'” wrote E.P. Sanders regarding the Gospels, “the varnish of faith in Jesus covers everything.”35
The sooner we take that fact seriously, the sooner we can learn to appreciate the Gospels as we have them.
1 By “critical” scholarship I don’t mean scholarship that mocks or derides biblical texts. Rather, critical scholarship is that which analyzes the texts and their background. It takes seriously the task of trying to figure out what these texts are saying with the fewest assumptions about them required.
2 See my post “Preaching to the Choir: On Pop-Apologists and Their Craft” (10.28.18), amateurexegete.com.
3 Mike Winger, “Why You Don’t Let Bart Ehrman Interpret the Bible for You,” youtube.com. Accessed 21 January 2018.
4 Bart Ehrman, Jesus Interuppted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (and Why We Don’t Know About Them) (HarperOne, 2009).
5 Ibid., 18.
6 Ibid., 62.
8 For an overview of the history and proposed solutions to the Synoptic Problem, see Stanley E. Porter and Bryan R. Dyer, “The Synoptic Problem: An Introduction to Its Key Terms, Concepts, Figures, and Hypotheses,” in Stanley E. Porter and Bryan R. Dyer (editors), The Synoptic Problem: Four Views (Baker Academic, 2016), 1-26.
9 Ehrman, Jesus Interuppted, 63-64.
10 Ibid., 64.
11 See Ehrman’s discussion of Markan priority, Q, M, and L in The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings, sixth edition (OUP, 2016), 120-128.
12 Keith F. Nickle, The Synoptic Gospels: An Introduction, revised and expanded (WJK, 2001), 104.
13 Ehrman, Jesus Interuppted, 65.
14 Ibid., 66.
16 Craig A. Evans, Mark 8:27 – 16:20, WBC vol. 34b (Thomas Nelson, 2001), 507. Evans then goes on to comment that “[i]t is not surprising that the later evangelists choose different concluding utterances: ‘Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit!’ (Luke 23:46); ‘It is finished’ (John 19:30).”
17 R.T. France, The Gospel of Mark, NIGTC (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2002), 652-653. Emphasis added.
18 See Danny Yencich, “Sowing the Passion at Olivet: Mark 13-15 in a Narrative Frame,” Stone-Campbell Journal 20 (Fall 2017), 189-200.
19 Ehrman, Jesus Interuppted, 67.
21 Claudio Moreschini and Enrico Norelli, Early Christian Greek and Latin Literature: A Literary History, vol. 1 (Hendrickson Publishers, 2005), 50. For example, around the same time that Luke wrote his two volumes (i.e. the Gospel and Acts), Josephus composed his own works including the two volume Against Apion which begins with the words
In my history of our Antiquities, most excellent Epaphroditus, I have, I think, made sufficiently clear to anyone who may peruse that work the extreme antiquity of our Jewish race, the purity of the original stock, and that manner in which it established itself in the country which we occupy to-day. That history embraces a period of five thousand years, and was written by me in Greek on the basis of our sacred books. Since, however, I observe that a considerable number of persons, influenced by the malicious calumnies of certain individuals, discredit the statemes in my history concerning our antiquity, and adduce as proof of the comparative modernity of our race the fact that it has not been thought worthy of mention by the best known Greek historians, I consider it my duty to devote a break treatise to all these points….As witness to my statements I propse to call the writers who, in the estimation of the Greeks, are the most trustworthy authorities on antiquity as a whole. (Josephus, Against Apion 1.2, H. St. J. Thackeray (trans.) [G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1926], 163, 165.)
The parallels between the Lukan prologue and the prologue of Josephus in Against Apion are striking.
22 Robert A. Spivey, D. Moody Smith, and C. Clifton Black, Anatomy of the New Testament: A Guide to Its Structure and Meaning, seventh edition (Augsburg Fortress, 2003), 125.
23 John Nolland, Luke 1 – 9:20, WBC vol. 35a (Thomas Nelson 1989), 17-18.
24 Luke Timothy Johnson, The Gospel of Luke, Sacra Pagina vol. 3 (The Liturgical Press, 1991), 60.
26 Another example of Jesus as a philosopher and sage can be found in the Lukan “dinner discourses” (i.e. Luke 5:29-32; 7:36-50; 22:14-38, etc.). There are parallels to be found in “symposium” literature wherein a dinner serves as “a narrative device for presenting the wisdom of the sages” (L. Michael White, Scripting Jesus: The Gospels in Rewrite [HarperOne, 2010], 341. As White observes, Plutarch’s Dinner of the Seven Sages was a work contemporaneous with Luke-Acts and includes (anachronistically) women just as we find in some of the Lukan scenes, particularly 7:36-50.
27 As evidence of the travel narrative’s uniqueness, L. Michael White notes that it is made up almost entirely of material from Q or material unique to Luke. The exception is the end. White notes that the narrative’s “central placement and distinctive story line develop some of the most important themes in the Lukan portrayal of Jesus.” See White, Scripting Jesus, 322.
28 White, Scripting Jesus, 344.
29 Johnson, The Gospel of Luke, 375.
30 Ehrman, Jesus Interuppted, 68.
31 Sharyn Dowd, Reading Mark: A Literary and Theological Commentary on the Second Gospel, electronic edition (Smyth & Helwys, 2015), 380-381.
32 Dowd, Reading Mark, 383.
33 For more, see Daniel B. Wallace’s discussion on requests made in the imperative mood in Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics (Zondervan, 1996), 487-488. See also James A. Brooks and Carlton L. Winbery, Syntax of New Testament Greek (University Press of America, 1979), 128.
34 William Douglas Chamberlain, An Exegetical Grammar of the Greek New Testament (The Macmillan Company, 1950), 86.
35 E.P. Sanders, The Historical Character of Jesus (Penguin Books, 1993), 73.
Featured image: Wikimedia Commons.
9 thoughts on “Jesus’ Death in Mark and Luke: A Response to Pop-Apologist Mike Winger on Bart Ehrman”
What do you mean by “pop” apologist? Are you a “pop” amateur exegete? How would you view an article discussing your methods and views that labels you a “pop exegete”? Whether you meant it to be or not, your chosen terminology seems derogatory, belittling, and dismissive and, in my opinion reveals prejudice, which diminishes your credibility.
Thanks for commenting!
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What’s derogatory/ belittling and dismissive about calling someone a “pop apologist” if they’re popular apologists?
If you find the terminology offensive, you have the right to that *opinion* but realize that not everyone sees it that way.
I’d focus on criticizing ideas/claims/ arguments rather than people. I think that if a person demonstrates that they know what they’re talking about, cites experts or academic sources, etc. gives them credibility.
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First let me say I agree that inerrentists often make silly arguments. My point here is not to defend their views.
However I do think here Winger raises some good points. You call the scripture he refers to as “proof texting” but I am not so sure he is taking those scripture out of context. I think those texts and others in Mark were intended to show Jesus had some understanding that he was destined to suffer and die as part of God’s plan. Ehrman does tend to ignore and downplay those texts and make it appear that in Mark Jesus as almost completely bewildered. This fits Ehrman’s theories better and those texts raised by Winger do indeed cause problems for Ehrman’s views.
As far as Winger’s point that Jesus may be alluding to Psalm 22 you say
“But this is problematic because the people present to hear those words don’t understand him as referring to Psalm 22 at all. They think he’s calling for Elijah to come rescue him! (Mark 15:35-36) This confusion is perhaps the epitome of the Markan theme of misunderstanding. Furthermore, there are opposite elements at work, for the people think Jesus is expecting to be miraculously rescued from the cross whereas what Jesus actually cried was that he wouldn’t be rescued because he had been forsaken by God.”
But it is unclear how that presents a problem at all for winger’s view. Yes the people misunderstood Jesus yet again. That actually fits his view of what Mark’s purpose might be. It would be unclear why *Mark* would draw attention to this misunderstanding unless Mark’s point was to draw attention to that particular misunderstanding in light of how the psalm ended. I mean is he just reporting a random mishearing of what Jesus said for posterity sake. What could be the importance of the misunderstanding where they thought Jesus was calling for help from Elijah and got nothing versus Jesus calling for help from God and getting nothing? It is only when we understand the full psalm would the possible intention of Mark be understood. Mark would know his readers would know the reference even if he has the crowd misunderstanding. Right?
I really enjoy your views on these issues. I also really enjoy reading Bart Ehrman and have learned quite a bit from him and have been a long time paying member of his blog. But I do think he often presents his own views with far more confidence then they deserve. He is also quite dismissive of religious views including views on miracles.
I think Mark was more likely to be written first than the others. I also think Luke or Matthew likely had access to it or something close to it. But if I were to find out a different Gospel was actually written first it would not be like finding out water is not actually H2O. There are reasons that a minority of scholars hold different views and of course one important reason secular scholars tend to date Mark earlier has to do with their view that Jesus could not have predicted the fall of the temple. There are other important reasons too but it is understandable that Christians may not be so enthused with that argument.
“Nothing in Ehrman’s description of Mark 15:16-39 misrepresents the story in any way.”
But Ehrman says:
“In Mark’s version of the story (Mark 15:16-39), Jesus is condemned to death by Pontius Pilate, mocked and beaten by the Roman soldiers, and taken off to be crucified. Simon of Cyrene carries his cross. Jesus says nothing the entire time. The soldiers crucify Jesus, and he still says nothing. Both of the robbers being crucified with him mock him. Those passing by mock him. The Jewish leaders mock him. Jesus is silent until the very end, when he utters the wretched cry, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani,” which Mark translates from the Aramaic for his readers as, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Someone gives Jesus a sponge with sour wine to drink. He breathes his last and dies.13”
Where does mark say Jesus is silent until he said those words? In my translation of the bible Mark does not record Jesus saying other things but it also does not say he was “silent until the very end, when he utters the wretched cry, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani,'” Are we to think Mark wants us to assume Jesus only said the words he recorded in his Gospel and no others? That seems absurd on its face.
If I had read only what Ehrman wrote I would indeed think Mark said Jesus was silent all that time wouldn’t you? But Mark does not say that. I think Ehrman is changing what Mark wrote much more than Matthew to suit his own purpose. And Ehrman’s purpose is to try argue the gospel writers contradict each other. And unless I missed where Mark said something like “Jesus was silent except for what I have him saying in this Gospel” I do think Ehrman is misrepresenting Mark in Ehrman’s zeal to prove contradictions. I don’t mean to impugn Ehrman’s ethics. I just think we all have our biases and his show in that quote.
IMO view there are plenty of contradictions that are much more explicit and require no misrepresentations.
Thanks for leaving a comment! I apologize for not responding sooner as well as for the length of my reply. I wanted to be as thorough as possible and brevity is not my forte. Let me respond to some of your points in order.
First, in the piece I use the term “proof-texting” to refer to the way in which Mark’s Jesus quotes from the opening words of Psalm 22. I should have been more careful here and instead something like, “It is the Markan author, proof-texting from Psalm 22, that has Jesus utter the words…”, or something similar. While proof-texting may be a bit pejorative, it nevertheless describes the way in which Mark handles his source material in the LXX. And strictly speaking, there is nothing wrong with it insofar as Mark’s purposes are concerned. He is portraying Jesus as one who feels forsaken by God. But this is one good reason to object to Winger’s reading of the story.
Throughout the Passion narrative, Mark makes great use of Psalm 22 by either allusion or plucking words and applying them to his story. The psalm becomes akin to a program for Mark. But he doesn’t use all the psalm. For example, in v. 2 of the psalm we read, “O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer; and by night, but find no rest.” Mark makes no use of this verse, either by allusion or direct citation. Why? It simply doesn’t fit the narrative. He similarly doesn’t use vv. 19-21 of the psalm. Why? Because, again, it doesn’t fit his narrative. The psalm isn’t about someone who dies and is then resurrected. It’s about someone who faces certain death but lives to tell the tale thanks to the intervention of God. So, I think, Mark picks and chooses which elements to place into his narrative with the goal of portraying the events of Jesus’ death in scriptural terms and motifs.
Second, I’m not sure Ehrman either ignores or downplays the so-called Passion predictions. It is true he doesn’t mention them in the context in which he was writing in ‘Jesus, Interrupted.’ (His interest there is in the Passion narratives themselves, not the larger context of the Gospels.) However, it’s not as if Ehrman has never talked about those predictions. For example, in his ‘The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings’ (Oxford University Press, 2016 [sixth edition]) he writes, “Throughout the early portions of Mark’s Gospel the reader is given several indications that Jesus will have to die (e.g., 2:20, 3:6). After Peter’s confession, however, Jesus begins to be quite explicit about it” (p. 112). He goes on to talk about each prediction in turn. A page later, and Ehrman turns his attention to the Passion narrative proper.
After spending a paragraph explaining why Mark may depict the disciples as misunderstanding who Jesus is and scattering upon his arrest, the first sentence of the next paragraph says, “Mark’s narrative may even intimate that at the end Jesus himself was in doubt” (p. 114). He then discusses the scene in Gethsemane where Jesus is described as “distressed and agitated” (Mark 14:33), the desertion by the disciples, the public humiliation he faces at the trial by the high priest as well as that of Pilate, and the mocking he receives by everyone as he hangs upon the cross which culminates in the words of 15:34 – “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Ehrman then writes, “Is this a genuine question of the dying Jesus? Does he truly feel forsaken in the end even by God? Does he not fully understand the reason for his death? These are questions on which readers of the account may disagree” (p. 114).
Because ‘The New Testament’ is an undergraduate textbook intended to introduce students to the New Testament generally, Ehrman doesn’t offer his opinion on the subject. He simply asks some questions to encourage students to think. But in books like ‘Jesus, Interrupted,’ Ehrman is more forthcoming with his view on the text. So, Ehrman doesn’t downplay or ignore the Passion predictions; he sees them as evidence that a confident Jesus at the beginning of the narrative becomes doubtful toward the end. I will concede that it would have been helpful if Ehrman had placed an endnote to that effect, perhaps citing an earlier edition of his introductory textbook. But given that he has talked about in print (and on his blog – https://tinyurl.com/mt9463bk) it isn’t exactly a secret.
Third, you question why I think the misunderstanding of the crowd (i.e., thinking Jesus is calling for Elijah rather than God) is a problem for Winger. Setting aside Mark’s intentions, Winger believes that Jesus actually spoke the words of v. 34 *and* that by speaking those words he intended to communicate, in Winger’s words, “I’m the Messiah, fulfilling this psalm and I’m suffering and yet God will answer me and I will rise.” But this isn’t the takeaway from the crowd at all. They think he’s calling for Elijah to rescue him at that moment, not that God will answer him and raise him from the dead. Had Jesus intended to communicate what Winger suggests, he could have done so by saying things like, “I will suffer and die and on the third day I will rise again.” He’s already done this three other times in the Markan Gospel! Why not here? I think this is a problem for Winger’s view.
Fourth, in defense of Winger’s assertion that Mark’s audience would get the reference even if the hearers at the cross did not, you wrote, “Mark would know his readers would know the reference even if he has the crowd misunderstanding. Right?” While possible, I’m not convinced it’s plausible. The late Raymond Brown found this problematic, noting that such a view “would mean that Mark expected his readers to recognize that a psalm was being cited, to know the whole psalm, and to detect from a reference to the agonized opening verse the triumphant fate of the one who prays – in short, to take almost the opposite meaning of what Jesus is portrayed as saying!” (‘The Death of the Messiah,’ 2:1050). The late R.T. France took a similar view, writing that “to read into these few tortured words an exegesis of the whole psalm is to turn upside down the effect which Mark has created by this powerful and enigmatic cry of agony” (‘The Gospel of Mark,’ pp. 652-653). I’m inclined to agree with these (Christian) scholars.
Fifth, I cannot help but disagree with your assertion that “one important reason secular scholars tend to date Mark earlier has to do with their view that Jesus could not have predicted the fall of the temple.” Can you cite one scholar that believes in Markan Priority even in part on this? I’d be interested in seeing it.
Sixth, the reason Ehrman writes that “Jesus says nothing the entire time” is because, as we have it in the Markan account, Jesus says nothing the entire time. This claim comes from nothing else but observing Mark’s telling of the story. And Ehrman isn’t the only one to notice it. Here’s Joel Marcus in his commentary on the Gospel of Mark: “From his arrest on…Jesus is falling into silence – which makes his rare utterances even more striking than they would otherwise be” (‘Mark 8-16,’ p. 996). Later, Marcus notes that Jesus’s silence before his accusers in 15:4-5 “echoes biblical passages such as Isa 53:7 and Ps 38:13-14” (p. 1027). The motif of silence pervades the Markan account. Ehrman is absolutely correct. Your judgement that this “seems absurd on its face” is noted but is hardly relevant to the data at hand.
Ehrman doesn’t need to “try [to] argue the gospel writers contradict each other.” It is quite apparent that they do. All he has done is to point out *why* they do. They each have their own agenda in presenting Jesus and they are willing to alter the storyline of their predecessors in service of their aims. If this creates a contradiction between the accounts, what is that to the Evangelists? They weren’t writing scripture. They were writing ancient biographies.
This does highlight a problem with inerrantists like Winger and would-be apologists generally: they don’t read much biblical scholarship. If they had, they would soon realize that much of what Ehrman says is hardly original to him. Many of his views preceded him, offered in the pages of biblical scholars of decades prior. Ehrman is an easy target because he does a lot of popular level writing to make scholarship more accessible. I think apologists would do well to stop reading Ehrman and to stop reading their favorite apologists and start engaging more deeply with actual biblical scholarship.
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In your opinion is the author of Mark (hereinafter referred to simply as “Mark”) recording Jesus saying “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?” Because Jesus actually said it or is Mark placing those words in Jesus’s mouth because that fits his narrative. I can’t tell which you think based on what you wrote.
I think Mark actually thought Jesus said that and Jesus was referencing the psalm. The fact that the people there didn’t understand just shows how Jesus was misunderstood. But Mark believes his readers will understand Jesus even if the crowd doesn’t. There really isn’t a problem. Jesus too was saved by God just in a different way than the psalmist was saved.
You say Jesus should or could have said something different to the crowd to help them understand. But I don’t see this as Jesus addressing the crowd in particular. He is addressing those who would hear and read about events and those who would follow him. You say Jesus should have said something different. But what he said ties him to the Jewish God in ways your suggestion doesn’t seem to.
“Sixth, the reason Ehrman writes that “Jesus says nothing the entire time” is because, as we have it in the Markan account, Jesus says nothing the entire time. This claim comes from nothing else but observing Mark’s telling of the story. And Ehrman isn’t the only one to notice it. Here’s Joel Marcus in his commentary on the Gospel of Mark: “From his arrest on…Jesus is falling into silence – which makes his rare utterances even more striking than they would otherwise be” (‘Mark 8-16,’ p. 996). Later, Marcus notes that Jesus’s silence before his accusers in 15:4-5 “echoes biblical passages such as Isa 53:7 and Ps 38:13-14” (p. 1027).”
If it comes from Mark please quote Mark saying that. Joel Marcus is not the author of Mark. Mark never says anything close to “Jesus was silent except for the words I record here.” And indeed such a view is absurd. But that is the assumption Ehrman makes.
Mark 15:1-5 is clearly saying Jesus made no reply to some questions Pilate put to him but not others.
“Very early in the morning, the chief priests, with the elders, the teachers of the law and the whole Sanhedrin, made their plans. So they bound Jesus, led him away and handed him over to Pilate.
’Are you the king of the Jews?’ asked Pilate.
‘You have said so,’ Jesus replied.
The chief priests accused him of many things. So again Pilate asked him, ‘Aren’t you going to answer? See how many things they are accusing you of.’ But Jesus still made no reply, and Pilate was amazed.” Mark 15:1-5
Mark is pointing out that Jesus did not respond to some of Pilate’s specific questioning. It is beyond a strain to think that Mark wants us to think Jesus never said anything else his entire life before or after that point other than what he recorded. Of course, Mark likely would have no way of knowing if Jesus said anything else. Was any person with Jesus the entire time to report that to him?
Is Mark 15:1-5 all you have? Or did Mark say anything that suggests we should assume Jesus was completely silent for that “entire time”? Ehrman wants to claim there is a contradiction so he interprets it that way but a fair reading of the text does nothing to suggest that was the case. Ehrman says “In Mark’s version of the story (Mark 15:16-39), Jesus is condemned to death by Pontius Pilate, mocked and beaten by the Roman soldiers, and taken off to be crucified. Simon of Cyrene carries his cross. Jesus says nothing the entire time.” Please quote from Mark what makes you think it even remotely suggests Jesus was silent that “entire time.” The only thing Mark tells us is Jesus did not reply to some questions Pilate put to him. If you have a passage from Mark let’s see it. Saying Mark said Jesus was silent that entire time is beyond a stretch of Mark. It is a misrepresentation. Mark did not say Jesus was silent that “entire time.”
“Fifth, I cannot help but disagree with your assertion that “one important reason secular scholars tend to date Mark earlier has to do with their view that Jesus could not have predicted the fall of the temple.” Can you cite one scholar that believes in Markan Priority even in part on this? I’d be interested in seeing it.”
According to Ehrman “…. scholars for a very long time (since the nineteenth century) have recognized that Mark was the first Gospel to be written, around 65-70 CE.”
Ehrman points out that even Mark’s vague possible reference to the war with Rome is a reason many scholars date Mark after 70 AD. But says most experts agree that Luke and Matthew were written after 70 AD because of their very clear reference to the destruction of Jerusalem. The argument is not so strong for Mark’s vague description.
“There are solid reasons, that I won’t go into here, for thinking that Mark was the first Gospel to be written. The question with Mark is whether it was written before or after the Jewish War with Rome, that ended with the destruction of Jerusalem, and the Temple, in 70 CE. Scholars debate the point, but the majority (outside of fundamentalists and very very conservative evangelicals) think the answer is “afterward,” in part because they see the comments of Mark 13 about the Temple (that it will be destroyed) as indicating that Mark was living after the fact. I’m not sure if this is right or not; I have tended to think that Mark’s description of the destruction is so vague that it’s not clear that he knows about it as a past event. But that may be simply because he is living outside of Palestine and has just heard the rumors of what it was like.
Matthew and Luke were dependent on Mark for many of their stories, and so they must have been written later. How much later? Well, it is relatively clear that Matthew and Luke were written after 70 – at least in the judgment of most experts who deal with this question. The reason: they both appear to refer to the destruction of Jerusalem (see for example Matthew 22:7, “burned their city”!; and Luke 21:24).”
“This does highlight a problem with inerrantists like Winger and would-be apologists generally: they don’t read much biblical scholarship.”
I read it and understand the arguments. Its just that they are often based on assumptions and speculation. Including the assumption that Mark intended us to think the only words Jesus spoke were the words he recorded. Since I do not share your assumptions I do not see as much conflict between Mark and Luke and Matthew as you and Ehrman.
“Many of his views preceded him, offered in the pages of biblical scholars of decades prior. Ehrman is an easy target because he does a lot of popular level writing to make scholarship more accessible. I think apologists would do well to stop reading Ehrman and to stop reading their favorite apologists and start engaging more deeply with actual biblical scholarship.”
Ehrman explains how the scholarship is done. And according to him the scholars other than religious ones go on the assumption that miracles could never have happened historically. That is the religious view they all share and that is fine. But that is a religious view it is not a view you get from applying historical criteria.
I have listened to many of Ehrman’s popular books and courses. If he has better arguments in his other work then he (or you) should bring them forward.
Contradictions do not particularly bother me the way they do some other people. I just think Ehrman’s assumption that Mark wants us to believe Jesus only said the words he recorded in order to say it contradicts other Gospel writers is a beyond a stretch.