KANSAS CITY, Mo. (BP)–Two internationally known scholars in the area of biblical reliability came together April 1 in a debate at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, kicking off the annual Scrolls and Scriptures Conference.
Craig Evans and Bart Ehrman, two of the leading scholars on each side of the modern reliability of Scriptures debate, discussed the topic “The Risen Christ: The Biblical Accounts of the Resurrection — Are They True?”
Moderated by Midwestern President R. Philip Roberts, the debate drew an overflow crowd which occupied the chapel auditorium and several classrooms, where the event was streamed live. The debate attempted to answer the question, “How can I really trust that the Bible is the actual Word of God?”
“People want, and need, to know the truth about the Bible’s origin and reliability,” said Jerry Johnson, vice president for academic development and academic dean at Midwestern. “This debate addresses that need on both the popular and the scholarly level. From Dan Brown’s ‘Da Vinci Code’ to James Cameron’s so-called ‘Coffin of Jesus,’ the average person is aware of new claims that supposedly undermine the biblical record.”
Opponents of the reliability of the Bible tend to focus on issues surrounding the text including date of authorship, authenticity, archeological evidence and variants in the existing manuscripts.
Ehrman, who does not believe in the reliability of the Scriptures, listed reasons why he thinks the biblical texts cannot be trusted.
“The people who wrote the stories in the Bible are not the ones who witnessed the stories,” he said during the debate. “None of the Gospels are an eyewitness account. All the Gospels were written 30 to 60 years later by people who were not there to see these things happen.”
Because of discrepancies in the synoptic gospel accounts of the resurrection, Ehrman said, individuals should not base the truth of the resurrection of Christ on the books of the Bible. Ehrman’s stance against the accuracy of Scripture has catapulted him to popularity as a critic and spokesperson against the reliability of the Bible.
A professor at the University of North Carolina and self-proclaimed agnostic, Ehrman is best known for his works in textual criticism and his most recent books “Misquoting Jesus” and “Jesus, Interrupted.”
Evans, professor of New Testament at Acadia Divinity College in Canada, entered the debate with his own list of credentials which include writing and editing more than 60 books including his latest, “Jesus, the Final Days: What Really Happened.” Like Ehrman, Evans has been featured on major television outlets including NBC, the History Channel and Discovery Channel.
Evans offered support of the authenticity of the biblical accounts of the resurrection, saying that differences in the gospel accounts are more complicated than just acknowledging they exist.
“I hope students will learn that simplistic answers don’t explain much and will let you down,” Evans said.
During a question and answer session, Ehrman told the audience that the reason for his departure from faith in Christ came not because of his work in academics or the variations in the texts but from the problem of suffering in the world.
“The reality is that this world is a cesspool of misery for so many people, and I simply came to a point where I could no longer believe in God,” he said.
Evans responded, “But I have to ask, too, if you are going to ask why all the misery, why all suffering and so on, why is there beauty? Why is there grace? Why is there love? Why is there mercy? Why is there greatness? All of these things are not necessary for survival. There is this redundancy, this unnecessary surplus of the good and the beautiful that is within the human heart that is capable of transforming darkness into light. Where does that come from?”
After the debate, Roberts said the event “assured us that there is overwhelming textual support for the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”
“I hope students took away a burning passion to share the truth of the resurrection and all its wonderful promises,” Roberts said. “The event was a success, but the debate goes on as we live in a world where individuals have chosen not to accept the evidence, and they need to hear the voice affirming the resurrection.”
Mark Wayne, a master of divinity student at Midwestern, attended the debate as part of an evangelical ministries course offered by the seminary.
“I think this is a great thing for the seminary,” Wayne said. “By seeing these two views contrasted, it challenges the students to dig deeper in their studies and their faith.”
The Scrolls and Scriptures debate and conference was supported by the G. Richard and Judy Hastings Institute, which was founded in 2008. The Institute was created by Midwestern’s board of trustees, and this marked the second year of the Hastings’ support of the event.
D.J. Castilleja is a communications assistant at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.