Lost in the Weeds: SJ Thomason Takes on Bart Ehrman, part 1

To see all posts in this series, please refer to its index.

Last year I wrote a five-part series on Heather Schuldt’s terrible attempt at taking on biblical scholar Bart Ehrman.1 Now pop-apologist SJ Thomason wants to have her moment in the sun as she responds to Bart Ehrman’s fifteen year old book Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why.2 Her first post entitled “Ehrman’s ‘Misquoting Jesus’ Misleads Readers from its Inception”3 is standard pop-apologetic rubbish. Let’s briefly explore why.

Paul, 1 Thessalonians, and the Dating of the Gospels

Thomason begins by addressing Ehrman’s claim that the first epistle to the Thessalonians can be “dated to about 49 C.E., some twenty years after Jesus’s death and some twenty years before any of the Gospel accounts of his life.”4 The pop-apologist claims Ehrman is “intentionally stretching the dating.” But is he?

Despite Thomason’s confidence in dating Jesus’ death to April 3, 33 CE, historians and New Testament scholars aren’t entirely sure exactly when he died.5 Helen Bond notes that

[t]he commonly held assumption that Jesus died in either April 30 or 33 is based on astronomical calculations relating to years in which Nisan 14 fell on a Friday….All we can say with any confidence is that Jesus died some time between around 29 and 33 CE (any later and Pauline chronology becomes problematic).6

Elsewhere Ehrman has shown a preference for 30 CE7 and other scholars tend to lean that way as well.8 If Paul wrote the first epistle to the Thessalonians around 49 CE then this would indeed be “some twenty years after Jesus’ death.”

Thomason next makes two arguments for an early dating of the Gospels. First, she asserts that Paul knew of the Gospel of Luke because in 1 Timothy 5:18 we find the words of Jesus from Luke 10:7 quoted. I have dealt with this issue elsewhere and will not revisit it here.9 Second, Thomason believes that since the Gospel authors fail to mention explicitly the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE and that the author of Acts doesn’t discuss the deaths of either Paul or Peter then they must have been written before these events. But she has elsewhere indicated that she believes the Gospel of John was written sometime around 90 CE.10 Yet the Johannine author never mentions the fall of Jerusalem. So why does Thomason accept the standard scholarly date of 90 CE for the writing of the Gospel of John but not the standard dating for the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke? I have already written a post on the dating of the Gospels and so I invite the reader to take a look at that post.11 Needless to say, Thomason’s scheme is off and Ehrman’s view stands.

Other Gospels

Thomason next takes issue with Ehrman’s discussion of other Gospels that were written besides those found in the canonical New Testament. She says,

On page 24, Ehrman makes the claim that “many others” were written, citing Luke 1:1 and his reference to “many” “predecessors.” His examples of many others on page 24 are three Gnostic gospels: Philip, Judas Thomas, and Mary Magdalene.

It is important to note the dating of the three Gnostic gospels that are cited by Ehrman, a point he curiously excluded: Philip was written in the third century, Judas Thomas was written in the middle to late second century, and Mary Magdalene was written in the late second century.

Ehrman does fail to mention the dating of these later Gospels but the context makes it plain he considers them to be written after the canonical Gospels: “Other Gospels, including some of the very earliest, have been lost.”12 Ehrman’s main point is to note that Christians wrote additional Gospels because they “were concerned to know more about the life, teachings, death, and resurrection of their Lord” and therefore “recorded the traditions associated with the life of Jesus.”13 Their canonicity is a non-issue for Ehrman’s point and so Thomason’s subsequent discussion is a red herring.

Setting aside Thomason’s simplistic view of how the canon developed, it is interesting to note what she says about the Lukan author’s claim that “many have undertaken to set down an orderly account of the events that have been fulfilled among us” (Luke 1:1).

The fact Luke stated that “many have undertaken to draw up an account” does not mean many were successful in completing their undertakings. It may mean that many started and only a few – or two – finished.

But notice what the author says in Luke 1:3 – “I too decided…to write an orderly account.” Since Luke evidently completed his account, it stands to reason that there were other completed accounts as well.

I won’t touch on her discussion of Q since she evidently doesn’t know what Q is or how it functions with regards to the Synoptic Problem. Heather Schuldt revealed similar ignorance regarding Q and here is what I said about it.

[T]he purpose of Q was to account for passages not found in Mark but found in Matthew and Luke and this leads to a huge problem for Schuldt. The existence of Q is tied to the notion of Markan priority. Markan priority entails that the authors of the Gospels of Matthew and Luke used Mark as one of their sources in composing their narratives. But why would Matthew – an actual disciple of Jesus – need to use any source, especially Mark’s who wasn’t even a disciple? If Matthew was an eyewitness then there would have been no need to utilize Mark (let alone Q) as his source! Schuldt then has undermined the very position she was trying to promote!14

Ditto for Thomason.

Extra Epistles

Finally, Thomason discusses Ehrman’s mentioning of “lost letters” that were written between Paul and the churches to whom he ministered. But as Ehrman explains, his “point is that letters were important to the lives of early Christian communities.”15 In fact, the entire point of the first chapter of Misquoting Jesus is to explain the “bookishness” of Christianity as seen in the New Testament documents.16 So why in the world does Thomason say the following?

The fact we do not have those or other early letters does not discount the validity of the letters we do have. We have no evidence that any substantive letters are missing – or that early church fathers lamented particular missing letters. One can reasonably conclude no substantive information is missing.

This is nothing more than a strawman set up by Thomason. Nowhere does Ehrman suggest that these missing letters means that what is not missing is somehow invalid. As Ehrman himself explains, the section titled “Christianity as a Religion of the Book” (pages 20-29) was his attempt at “summarizing the different kinds of writings that were important to the lives of the early Christian churches.”17 Imputing to Ehrman a subversive motive that simply isn’t there speaks volumes about Thomason’s inability to read fairly or engage with what she has read in good faith.


So far, the pop-apologist is not off to a very good start. I do not have high hopes that her future posts will get any better.


Amateur Exegete, “Index to Series ‘Hopelessly Confused: Heather Schuldt Takes on Bart Ehrman” (11.9.18), amateurexegete.com. 

2 Bart Ehrman, Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why (HarperSanFrancisco, 2005).

3 S.J. Thomason, “Ehrman’s ‘Misquoting Jesus’ Misleads Readers from its Inception” (2.9.19), christian-apologist.com. Accessed 9 February 2019.

4 Ehrman, Misquoting Jesus, 22.

5 For an overview of the issues pertaining to the chronology of Jesus’ life and ministry, see John P. Maier, A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus, vol. 1 (Doubleday, 1991), 372-433. See also E.P. Sanders, The Historical Figure of Jesus (Penguin Books, 1993), 282-290.

6 Helen K. Bond, The Historical Jesus: A Guide for the Perplexed (T & T Clark, 2012), 150.

7 Bart Ehrman, Did Jesus Exist? The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth (HarperOne, 2012), 56.

8 See John Dominic Crossan, The Historical Jesus: The Life of a Mediterranean Jewish Peasant (HarperCollins, 1992), 218; Sanders, The Historical Figure of Jesus, 290; Paula Fredriksen, Jesus of Nazareth: King of the Jews (Vintage Books, 1999), 149; Maier, A Marginal Jew, vol. 1, 407.

9 See “On SJ Thomason’s Argument for Dating the Gospels Early” (12.28.18), amateurexegete.com.


Screen Shot 2018-12-28 at 2.18.05 PM

11 Hopelessly Confused: Heather Schuldt Takes on Bart Ehrman, part 1” (11.2.18),  amateurexegete.com.

12 Ehrman, Misquoting Jesus, 24. Emphasis added.

13 Ibid.

14 Amateur Exegete, “Hopelessly Confused: Heather Schuldt Takes on Bart Ehrman, part 1” (11.2.18),  amateurexegete.com. Accessed 9 February 2019.

15 Ehrman, Misquoting Jesus, 23.

16 Ibid., 17.

17 Ibid., 29.

Featured image: Wikimedia Commons.

Hopelessly Confused: Heather Schuldt Takes on Bart Ehrman, part 3

This is the third post in a series examining pop-apologist Heather Schuldt’s attempt to take down New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman. The two previous posts can be viewed here:

In this post we will be looking at Schuldt’s claim regarding the oral tradition that lay behind the Gospel accounts.


Schuldt writes,

Oral Reports Passed OnFirst of all, while verbal storytelling most likely did occur in history, how can Ehrman be so sure that no one wrote down anything? He can’t. The Q document hypothesis shows that if the story was written down and reproduced, which it was, then it did not have any time to be changed. Once a story is written and reproduced, such as anything from Gilgamesh to any other historical document, it becomes a specific story. Once a written story is reproduced and begins to circulate, the original becomes obvious. Today, we have thousands of early dated copies of the same gospel story. The story did not change from year to year like Ehrman imagines. Second, The “telehone operator game” that second graders play does not apply to the publication process, and it does not apply to a monologue that is memorized and performed in front of an audience. Third, some people have remarkable memories and can recite word for word from scripts and monologues. I personally witnessed in my lifetime a speaker recite the entire book of Revelation from memory in front of a large audience. Even if sermons were given verbally in the past, when the same sermon is given over and over, it most certainly does not change at all. Rather, it becomes even more ingrained into the memory, in a very precise way, much like a stage performer where the speaker recites exact lines night after night without error.1

As we indicated in previous posts, Schuldt has not provided a link to the video wherein Ehrman makes these statements and so I cannot comment on them directly. Nevertheless, we can say a few things about Schuldt’s view.

Hopelessly Confused About Q

Schuldt again brings up the Q source and again demonstrates absolutely no understanding about what it was and what it entails. We saw this in part 1 of this series when we commented on her use of Q as evidence for an early date for the Gospel accounts. So let’s review what Q is and why many New Testament scholars think it existed.

Most readers should be familiar with the phrase “the Synoptic Problem.” In reading the Synoptic Gospels (i.e. Matthew, Mark, and Luke) we readily notice the existence of multiple parallel accounts, sometimes referred to as the “triple tradition.” The “problem” of the Synoptic Problem is how to account for this tradition. While there have been a variety of proposals, the one agreed upon by most New Testament scholars is what has become known as the Two-Source Hypothesis (2SH). 2SH rests on the notion of what is called “Markan priority,” the position that the first of the Synoptic Gospels to have been written was Mark’s Gospel and that both the authors of Matthew and Luke used Mark’s Gospel as a basis for their own works.


There is no need to defend Markan priority here but the reader is encouraged to see Ehrman’s own defense of it in his textbook on the New Testament.2 

2SH also rests on the assumption that both Matthew’s and Luke’s Gospels utilized another source apart from the Gospel of Mark. Certain texts found in Matthew and Luke closely resemble one another, something often referred to as the “double tradition.” Under 2SH, the source for the double tradition is the hypothetical source Q (German, Quelle). Q was a source utilized by both Matthew and Luke but not by Mark.3


So then 2SH posits that both Matthew and Luke had two sources from which they drew when composing their Gospel accounts: the Gospel of Mark and Q.


Whatever else we may think about Q, it is clear that its existence was inferred and proposed on the basis of Markan priority. Therefore, to appeal to its existence commits one to the notion of Markan priority. Markan priority, in turn, commits one to the position that Matthew and Luke both utilized source material when composing their Gospel accounts. And this is problematic for Schuldt’s belief that Matthew’s Gospel, for example, was written by Matthew the tax collector because if Matthew was an eyewitness to the events he reports why would he need to draw from sources at all, especially from Mark who was not an eyewitness?

Schuldt’s appropriation of Q in a bid to rescue the Gospels serves to undermine her position on those Gospels functioning as eyewitness accounts. But there is more. Schuldt also doesn’t seem to know of what Q is comprised. By-and-large, Q would have included material from the double tradition that is non-narrative. In other words, Q was actually a “sayings source” akin to what we find in the Gospel of Thomas; very little of Q is considered to be narrative.4 So from where did the narrative material in Matthew and Luke come? Under 2SH, much of it came from Mark. But what about the rest? A modified form of 2SH, known as the Four Source Hypothesis, posits that Matthew had a third source “M” and Luke had a third source “L” upon which they drew. However, it is also possible that the non-Markan and non-Q material was simply invented by the authors.

How the Story Changes

The existence of Q and Matthew and Luke’s utilization of it serves to undermine yet another assert of Schuldt’s. She wrote, “The Q document hypothesis shows that if the story was written down and reproduced, which it was, then it did not have any time to be changed.” But this is absolutely incorrect. Let me provide an example.

In Matthew 8:5-13 we read the story of the healing of the centurion’s servant. It is a story that also appears in the Gospel of Luke (7:1-10). In the Matthean narrative, the centurion indicates that Jesus is superior to himself and that all Jesus needs to do is “speak the word” to heal the servant. Jesus’ response is one of amazement and he tells the centurion, “Truly, I tell you, in no one in Israel have I found such faith” (Matthew 8:10). Then Jesus says these words:

I tell you, many will come from east and west and will eat with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the heirs of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth (8:11-12).

In the Matthean narrative, these words serve to underscore the theme that those who are “heirs” may find themselves left out of the messianic banquet while those who are usually regarded as outsiders (i.e. the centurion) will be welcomed at the table.

The Lukan version of this story is rather truncated by comparison. After the centurion tells Jesus that Jesus need “only speak the word” and the servant would be healed, Jesus responds as he did in Matthew’s Gospel but without any of the language of Matthew 8:11-12. Instead, Jesus responds with the words of Matthew 8:10 and the scene ends with the healing of the centurion’s servant. So what has happened to the words Jesus spoke to the centurion recorded in Matthew 8:11-12? Well, Luke did not erase them entirely. Instead, Luke has inserted them into an entirely different context in Luke 13:28-29!

There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrown out. Then people will come from the east and west, from north and south, and will eat in the kingdom of God.

Since both the story of the healing of the centurion’s servant and the saying about the messianic banquet are both from Q, it tells us that the Q material has been rearranged and appropriated. In fact, it is possible that the saying of Matthew 8:11-12 and Luke 13:28-29 was part of its own section in Q as was the story of the healing of the centurion’s servant. Matthew inserted the saying in his story of the centurion’s servant while Luke inserted it into a parable about the narrow door (Luke 13:23-30).

This is evidence that just because a source was written down it doesn’t mean that later authors cannot take that source and use its material in different contexts and therefore in different ways.5 This is also true of Matthew’s and Luke’s utilization of Markan material. In Mark’s Gospel, the anointing of Jesus at Bethany takes place just prior to Passover, during Passion Week (Mark 14:1-9). Matthew’s Gospel follows suit (Matthew 26:3-13). But Luke places the event long before Passion Week (Luke 7:36-50). In Mark’s Gospel, the story of Jesus stilling the storm (Mark 4:35-41) takes place after the healing of the paralyzed man (Mark 2:1-12) and the calling of Levi (Mark 2:13-17). Luke follows suit (Luke 8:22-25). But in Matthew, the stilling of the storm (Matthew 8:23-27) takes place before the healing of the paralytic man (Matthew 9:2-8) and the calling of Levi (i.e. Matthew; Matthew 9:9-13).

If Matthew and Luke rearranged both material from Q and from Mark then it means that the story did change. And what this says is that the Gospel authors were not interested in writing eyewitness accounts but rather they were painting portraits of Jesus relevant to the needs of their Christian communities. And if this happened with concrete written  sources, then it must have happened with oral tradition. But this is unsurprising as it wasn’t the accuracy of the words that was important so much as the message those words conveyed and their usefulness for particular contexts. Quite often they used those words in ways entirely separate from their original context. Eric Eve writes,

A further potential complication is that the relative stability of the Jesus tradition observable in the surviving sources may have been preceded by a period of rapid change as Jesus’ first followers tried to make sense of what they or their informants had experienced (as may be illustrated, say, by the proposal that a Passion narrative was created early on in response to the need to make sense of Jesus’ death). The need to make sense of other aspects of Jesus’ life and ministry, such as the overall significance of his person, his most notable deeds and his teaching, may also have shaped (and probably did shape) the way Jesus was remembered from the start, for example, by keying the stories about him to salient aspects of Israelite tradition that were already well known, such as tales about Moses, Elijah, Elisha and David. Such interpretive shaping of the memories of Jesus was probably well underway prior to the earliest appearance of Jesus traditions in any surviving writings, and thus cannot be traced. The move from the original Galilean setting of Jesus’ first followers to the urban setting of Jerusalem and other cities of the empire will have given further impetus to reshaping the primitive Jesus traditions to meet the needs of a new context. Thus the relative stability of the tradition as it appears in its written remains cannot automatically be taken as an index of its historical reliability.6

Similarly, EP Sanders writes,

In trying to convince others, [early Christians] sometimes told stories of things that Jesus had said and done. In the early years this material was probably not written, but was simply passed on orally. When the disciples used incidents from Jesus’ life, they wanted to illustrate points, points that were important at the time….Besides winning new adherents, the disciples also instructed one another and their growing converts by recalling incidents from Jesus’ life. Sometimes they debated with Jewish teachers who rejected Jesus; these disputes provided a third context in which material from and about Jesus was employed.

Positively, these ways of using material from Jesus’ lifetime preserved it. It was preserved, however, in a form that was valuable to Jesus’ followers in their various activities. Thus, negatively, Jesus’ words and deeds were pulled out of their original context (in his own career) and thrust into another context, the disciples’ preaching and teaching.7

The fact of the matter is that the earliest memories of Jesus were shaped by years of telling and retelling stories about him. These stories were applied to contexts different from the one in which Jesus lived. The result is that what we currently have in the Gospel accounts is not a reliable guide to what happened in Jesus’ day. Bart Ehrman concludes,

If the Gospels have differences in historical detail, and each Gospel preserves traditions that have been changed, then it is impossible for the historian simply to take those stories at face value and uncritically assume that they provide historically accurate information.8

Whatever can be said about the historical Jesus and the circumstances of his life can only be teased out by rigorous and critical examination of the accounts we have in the Gospels.


As we have seen, the existence of written sources – even the hypothetical Q source – does not preclude the idea that changes could have been made to the Jesus story. In fact, as we saw, there were changes to that story. And if that happened in a written source, it surely happened in the oral sources whose form was far less concrete and far more malleable. Schuldt yet again is wrong in her attempted takedown of Ehrman and exhibits a lack of knowledge not only about the written sources we have and the hypothetical sources but also the oral tradition that stands behind the Gospel accounts.

If Ehrman’s is no expert, what is Schuldt?


1 Heather Schuldt, “5 Examples Why Bart Ehrman is Not a Gospel Expert” (10.17.18), ladyapologist.com. Accessed 7 November 2018.

2 Bart Ehrman, The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings, sixth edition (OUP, 2016), 122-123.

3 I have no interest in defending (or attacking) Q’s existence in this post. Readers are encouraged to consult works like Mark Goodacre’s The Case Against Q: Studies in Markan Priority and the Synoptic Problem (Trinity Press International, 2002) as well as John Kloppenborg’s Q, the Earliest Gospel: An Introduction to the Original Stories and Sayings of Jesus (WJK Press, 2008).

4 The narrative material of Q would include the temptation of Jesus (Matthew 4:1-11; Luke 4:2-13), the healing of the centurion’s servant (Matthew 8:5-13; Luke 7:1-10), and the episode involving the disciples of John (Luke 7:18-28; Matthew 11:2-11).

5 See also Matthew 7:21 vs. Luke 6:46 and Matthew 7:22-23 vs. Luke 13:25-27, as two more examples.

6 Eric Eve, Behind the Gospels: Understanding the Oral Tradition (Fortress Press, 2014), 178-179.

7 EP Sanders, The Historical Figure of Jesus (Penguin Books, 1993), 58-59.

8 Ehrman, 92.

Featured image: Wikimedia Commons.

Hopelessly Confused: Heather Schuldt Takes on Bart Ehrman, part 1

Yesterday I posted a lengthy but necessary rebuttal to pop-apologist Heather Schuldt’s bewildering piece on the Documentary Hypothesis. As I was poking around on her blog I noticed she had recently written another piece, this time attacking New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman, entitled “5 Examples Why Bart Ehrman Is Not a Gospel Expert.It is in many ways as bewildering as her post on the Documentary Hypothesis.

Schuldt’s post focuses on five areas where she believes Ehrman is wrong regarding the Gospel accounts.

  • The dating of the Gospel accounts.
  • The authorship of the Gospel accounts.
  • The passing on of oral reports.
  • The date of Jesus’ death.
  • The time of Jesus’ crucifixion.

As we will show in this post and the posts to come, Schuldt is hopelessly confused about so many things and it demonstrates just how little she knows about the New Testament generally and the Gospel accounts specifically. And since there is a lot of ground to cover, today we will cover only the dating of the Synoptic Gospels (and related issues).


Schuldt alludes to but does not provide a link to a video wherein Ehrman discusses some of the aforementioned issues about which Schuldt thinks he is wrong. I have no interest in trying to track that video down and we don’t need to do so to assess Schuldt’s views on those issues. So let’s begin by quoting Schuldt and then offer some commentary.

She writes,

Ehrman claimed that the (publication) dates of the gospels are a problem. No, the publication dates and writing dates are not a problem. The early dating of the four gospels add credibility and reliability to the text so much so that we can be certain that God preserved the original texts.

What Schuldt is discussing is the fact that the overwhelming majority of New Testament scholars think the Gospels were written long after Jesus lived. There are a variety of reasons for thinking this which we will get into shortly. It suffices to say that when Schuldt claims that there is “early dating” for the four Gospels and that this “add[s] credibility and reliability to the text so much that we can be certain that God preserved the original texts” she is speaking out of turn. But let’s see if she can defend her position. She offers three arguments to rebut Ehrman.

“Qualified Writers”

The first argument Schuldt marshals has to do with the period in which she believes the Gospels were written. She writes,

First, can Ehrman bring more value to the fact that the publication process and writing process was vastly different back then? He completely overlooks the entire writing process that took place from 30 AD-70 AD. While qualified writers at that time were able to use certain materials to write down specific texts, the serious nature of some Jewish priests hating Jesus, being jealous of Jesus, and calling for his death made the writing process even more protective. It is quite amazing that the four gospels survived at all under terrible authority figures. Ehrman cannot expect to apply a writing process and a publication process from 2018 to a time so long ago. I would expect that the original was significantly protected, and the task of reproducing the original was also significantly protected, both tasks which are completely ignored by Ehrman.

It is difficult to assess Schuldt’s claim given she hasn’t provided context in the form of a link to the video. But nevertheless, we can examine this poorly worded paragraph.

For starters, to what is Schuldt referring when she speaks of “qualified writers”? What does that even mean? The ability to read in ancient times did not entail the ability to write and literacy rates in first century Palestine have been estimated at anywhere from just three percent of the population to ten percent.2 Among Palestinian Jews, learning to read was for the most part a wholly unnecessary exercise unless one planned to become a scribe or a priest as on the sabbath the Torah was read aloud for the benefit of the illiterate.3 In first century Palestine, the lingua franca of the common people was Aramaic, a language related to but distinct from Hebrew, and so Jesus himself as well as his earliest followers would have spoken Aramaic. This is attested to in the Gospels themselves (i.e. Mark 3:17; 5:41; 7:11, 34; 11:9-10; 14:36; 15:22, 34, 42). And therein lies the problem: the Gospels weren’t written in Aramaic but Greek. This means that whoever wrote the Gospels had to have been educated since they wrote fairly decent Greek.

This is a problem for Schuldt since we have no indication that the disciples were multilingual or even educated. Take the Gospel of John, for example. Tradition ascribes its writing to the disciple John, the brother of James and son of Zebedee. But what was John doing before he was called by Jesus to become his disciple? He was a fisherman! (Mark 1:18-20) He wasn’t a priest and he wasn’t a scribe. He caught fish for a living, an activity that required no ability to read or write Aramaic, let alone Greek. Furthermore, in the book of Acts the author tells us that both Peter and John “were uneducated and ordinary men” (Acts 4:13). And yet John’s Gospel is written in Greek. Ehrman observes,

Did the apostles go back to school after Jesus died, overcome years of illiteracy by learning how to read and write at a relatively high level, become skilled in foreign composition, and then later pen the Gospels? Most scholars consider it somewhat unlikely.4 

Schuldt is clearly confused on the authorship of the Gospels and the time period in which they were written.

Schuldt also discusses the survival of the New Testament Gospels but I have no idea why that is even important. It is unlikely any of the Gospels were written in Jerusalem where the Jewish religious authorities held the most sway. Furthermore, there is no evidence to suggest there was widespread persecution of Christians such that they sought to destroy Christian literature. Schuldt would need to provide evidential support if she wants to claim there was such a threat and that it did occur.

Confused on Q

Next Schuldt says in response to Ehrman,

Second, not only have the four gospels been dated to the lifetime of the author, biblical experts suggest that a fifth document most likely did exist, a document they often refer to as the Q document, which part of it may very well have been written during the life of Jesus, for example, soon after an event, sermon, or conversation occurred. Ehrman may be a leading expert in applying criticism to a text, but he is most definitely not a leading gospel expert by any means. He is not a biblical expert at all.

Let’s begin with the very first sentence. Schuldt presupposes without any warrant whatsoever that the Gospels were written by those men to which tradition ascribes them. She has made no case to support this.

More interesting is her comments on Q, the so-called “Sayings Source.” The great irony here is that she says that Ehrman is “not a biblical expert at all” and yet she exhibits absolutely zero understanding of what the Q source is or why scholars propose its existence. Let me explain.

Scholars have long noticed that the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke are very similar. They tell many of the same stories and often in the same order. This is why they are referred to as the “Synoptic” Gospels. Early Christians believed that the first of the four Gospels to have been written was Matthew’s and that Mark and Luke wrote after Matthew’s Gospel had been circulated. Some believed that Mark utilized Matthew in his writing and was abbreviating his work. They also believed that Luke was using both Matthew and Mark to compose his narrative.5 This view on the order in which these books had been written as well as their literary relationship to one another held sway until the nineteenth century, at which time there was a shift away from Matthean priority (i.e. Matthew wrote first) to Markan priority (i.e. Mark wrote first).

With the reasonable assumption of Markan priority, scholars could see which passages were clearly Markan and which passages were not. For example, in Mark’s Gospel we read of the ministry of John the Baptist (Mark 1:4-8) which both Matthew (Matthew 3:4-6) and Luke (Luke 3:1-6) describe. However, both Matthew and Luke contain wording that didn’t come from Mark’s Gospel, specifically in Matthew 3:7-12 and Luke 3:7-9, 16-17. So where did these words come from if not from Mark? Well, their similarity led many scholars to suggest that a no longer extant source known as Q (German, Quelle – “source”) must have existed from which both Matthew and Luke got this bit of information. This source may have been one of the earliest written sources about Jesus to have been produced by early Christians, perhaps around 40 to 65 CE.6 

The existence of Q is held by the majority of New Testament scholars today though it has been contested.7 Regardless, the purpose of Q was to account for passages not found in Mark but found in Matthew and Luke and this leads to a huge problem for Schuldt. The existence of Q is tied to the notion of Markan priority. Markan priority entails that the authors of the Gospels of Matthew and Luke used Mark as one of their sources in composing their narratives. But why would Matthew – an actual disciple of Jesus – need to use any source, especially Mark’s who wasn’t even a disciple? If Matthew was an eyewitness then there would have been no need to utilize Mark (let alone Q) as his source! Schuldt then has undermined the very position she was trying to promote!

And she says Ehrman isn’t an expert.

The Destruction of the Temple

Schuldt moves on to an area that is frequently discussed when dating the Synoptic Gospels: the destruction of the Jewish temple in 70 CE. She writes,

Third, since there is no mention of the temple being destroyed in 70 AD, we have yet another clue as to the early dating of the gospels, placed before 70 AD, because at least one of the authors, if not all of the authors, would have included the major historical event in the New Testament texts.

The is an odd way to argue for the “early dating” of the Gospel accounts. The stories we read in the four Gospels are set in the historical context of Jesus’ day and since Jesus died forty years before the destruction of the temple it would have made no sense for them to mention its destruction explicitly. It would be like an author writing about the life of someone living in the Antebellum South but also throwing in explicit references to the battle of Gettysburg. It makes no sense to do that.

The Olivet Discourse and Dating Mark’s Gospel

So what does the destruction of the temple have to do with the dating of the Gospels? It largely has to do with the words of Jesus in what is commonly referred to as the “Olivet Discourse.” This discourse is found in Mark 13:1-37 (cf. Matthew 24:1-44; Luke 21:5-33). Jesus has just left the temple for the last time and as they are exiting the grounds one of his disciples points out the buildings of the temple complex: “Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!” (Mark 13:1) To this Jesus responds with an ominous warning: “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down” (13:2). In other words, the temple’s days are numbered. Jesus and the disciples then make their way to the Mount of Olives across from the temple where the disciples Peter, James, John, and Andrew inquire further: “Tell us, when will this [i.e. the destruction of the Temple] be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?” (13:3-4) Jesus then begins to explain what will take place before the temple’s destruction.

It is clear from Mark’s Gospel that the destruction of the temple is tied to “the end” (13:7), a term that implies the consummation of human history. In the context of Mark 13, the destruction of the temple is tied to the appearance of the Son of Man (13:24-27). And when will this all happen? According to Jesus, “[T]his generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place” (13:30). He even tells the religious authorities that they “‘will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Power,’ and ‘coming with the clouds of heaven'” (14:62). In other words, the destruction of the temple and the end of the age is coming very soon. In fact, it would take place within a generation.

So what does this have to do with dating Mark’s Gospel? The language he uses seems to suggest that he is writing sometime during the Jewish War (66-73 CE). Because while Mark ties the destruction of the temple to the end of human history, he is careful to not make them synonymous. So there would be “wars and rumors of wars” (i.e. the Jewish War) but despite it and the ensuing destruction, “the end is still to come” (13:7). And “nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom” and there would be earthquakes and famines but these are only “the beginning of the birth pangs” (13:8). So then Mark is living in a time period wherein Rome has either begun to wage war against Jerusalem itself and destroyed the temple or not long after the destruction of the city and temple. Using Jesus’ metaphor of birth pangs, the labor has begun (i.e. conflicts) but the baby (i.e. the coming of the Son of Man) has not yet been born. This is one of the reasons that scholars date the Gospel of Mark to sometime around 70 CE.

Dating Matthew and Luke

The dating of Matthew and Luke is less complicated given Markan priority since they must have appeared after Mark had been written. Therefore the two Gospels are generally dated to sometime in the 70s or 80s CE. (though later dates for Luke have been proposed well into the second century). Therefore, these accounts were written after the destruction of the temple, rendering Schuldt’s point moot. But are there internal grounds upon which we can make that determination?

Within Matthew’s Gospel there are various hints that the text was written after the temple’s destruction. Recall that in Mark’s Gospel the disciples ask Jesus to tell them when the temple’s destruction would take place and what would be the signs it was about to happen. But in Matthew (Matthew 24:3) the disciples ask two distinct questions: “Tell us, when will this be [i.e. the destruction of the temple], and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” Thus Matthew has made the issue of the temple’s destruction and the end of the age separate (though related) issues whereas Mark had intertwined the two. Furthermore, Matthew seems to allude to the destruction of Jerusalem in the Parable of the Wicked Tenants (21:41) and the Parable of the Wedding Banquet (22:7).

Luke is far more explicit in his allusions to the destruction of Jerusalem. In his version of the Olivet Discourse, Luke discusses “wars and insurrections” instead of the Markan “wars and rumors of wars,” a nod to the Jewish War that was an insurrection against Rome (Luke 21:9). He also changes Mark’s reference to the “desolating sacrifice [to bdelygma tēs erēmōseōs]” that would be “set up where it ought not be” (Mark 13:14) to a desolating army: “When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation [hē erēmōsis autēs] has come near” (Luke 21:20). This reference to a siege makes sense if Luke had been writing after the fall of Jerusalem. Previous to this, following his entry into Jerusalem, Jesus weeps over the city and makes this ominous “prediction”:

Indeed, the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up ramparts around you and surround you, and hem you in on every side. They will crush you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave within you one stone upon another; because you did not recognize the time of your visitation from God (Luke 19:43-44).

These are clearly very specific references to siege warfare that only make sense if Luke’s Gospel had been written after the destruction of Jerusalem.


As we’ve seen, Schuldt makes fundamental errors regarding Gospel authorship as it pertains to literacy and the disciples of Jesus who she believes wrote those Gospels. She has also misunderstood the Q source and undermines her own position on Gospel authorship in her discussion of Q, and, finally, she has misunderstood the issues surrounding the dating of the Synoptic Gospels and the relevance of the destruction of the temple.

How Schuldt ever came to the conclusion she was able to judge Ehrman’s expertise is a mystery to me.


1Heather M. Schuldt, “5 Examples Why Bart Ehrman Is Not a Gospel Expert” (10.17.18), Ladyapologist.com. Accessed 2 Nov 2018.

2L. Michael White, Scripting Jesus: The Gospels in Rewrite (HarperOne, 2010), 95.

3Paula Frederiksen, Jesus of Nazareth: King of the Jews (Vintage Books, 1999), 61.

4Bart D. Ehrman, The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings, sixth edition (OUP, 2016), 93.

5For more, see my video “The Synoptic Problem: The Augustinian Hypothesis.”

6See the discussion on dating Q in Gerd Theissen, The New Testament: A Literary History (Fortress Press, 2012), 36-37.

7A recent episode of the fantastic podcast New Testament Review featured an episode discussing the work of Austin Farrar, a New Testament scholar who found the Q hypothesis to be unnecessary. Listen to it here.

Featured image: Wikimedia Commons.