The New Testament's Religious Geniuses

Biblical scholar Bart Ehrman — who used to consider himself a Christian but now calls himself agnostic — has a new book out called Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible, and he has been making the rounds. Over lunch, I heard his interview with Terry Gross on Fresh Air. During this interview, he touched on a point that has long fascinated me.

Ehrman told Gross that he no longer considers the Bible to be the Word of God, but that he considers several of its authors to be “religious geniuses” — he explicitly included Paul and the writers of the four Gospels in this group of “geniuses.”

That’s interesting, isn’t it? Here you have 4 Jews and a Gentile, living and writing on the marginal fringes of the greatest empire in the world. Only in retrospective do we consider Israel and Jerusalem to have been an important part of the world. At the time, it was a minor province that, while occasionally troublesome, could be routinely put down by Roman force. Two of them (Paul and Luke) were well-educated by the standards of their day, but consider the others: John, a village fisherman; Matthew, a minor government official; Mark, whose “education” consisted of a series of missionary trips with Peter, Barnabas, and Paul.

According to Ehrman’s view of the Bible, there was nothing inherently special about the Jewish traditions they received. According to Ehrman, Jesus never rose from the dead, so Matthew and John might have known him and his teachings, but Mark, Paul, and Luke were all working from hearsay and secondhand stories. Not that his teaching counted for much: Ehrman’s new book makes the argument that Jesus was deluded. Would you trust your children’s education to the deluded followers of a deluded teacher?

And yet…

How do we account for this sudden explosion of religious genius? It’s as if Gandhi, MLK, Billy Graham, and the Dalai Lama all went to the same kindergarten.

Wouldn’t you want to know who they had as their teacher?

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