In How Jesus Became God Bart Ehrman cites a number of “doubting texts”: texts where the disciples apparently didn’t believe Jesus’ resurrection appearances. Erhman’s conclusion, on the basis of these (below) texts, is that probably only a few disciples experienced “visions” of Jesus, and that these “doubting texts” were included to represent the reaction of those who heard of the visions, not the reaction of those who experienced them. I didn’t have space in my last post, so I want to briefly examine the texts he uses as support of this idea.
Luke 24:10-11 is quoted as saying that the disciples considered Jesus’ resurrection as an “idle tale”, but if he only read the next verse he would see that they soon changed their minds (Luke 24:12) when they saw the empty tomb!
Luke 24:40-43 and John 20:19-20 also aren’t problematic. They don’t have the disciples disbelieving in the resurrection and/or appearances of Jesus; rather these texts all reveal reasonable responses on the part of the disciples to what they were experiencing! Would Ehrman be less suspicious if the text records immediate and widespread acceptance that Jesus was raised?
Acts 1:3 should not lead us to say with Ehrman, “how many proofs were needed exactly? And it took forty days to convince them?” (p191), but the text rather says that over a period of forty days Jesus appeared to His disciples in a variety of ways (read the last chapters of Luke) and also taught them. This is not supposed to make us think the disciples took 40 days of convincing!
Lastly, Matthew 28:17 is strongest text in Ehrman’s favour. He says, “Why would they doubt if Jesus was right there, in front of them?” (p190). What I don’t understand though, is why this wouldn’t pass Ehrman’s “criteria of dissimilarity“, making is historically credible? Surely the early Christians would be embarrassed by including this verse, but still Ehrman questions whether it happened because it is so unusual to have people doubting the reality of their own visions. Again, wouldn’t it be natural for some to not believe what they saw if a “dead” man appeared in their midst ? No doubt this is a confusing verse, but to conclude that these appearances never happened and rather represent people not believing the report of appearances – that seems even more farfetched to me! What’s more, as a solution, it has no real basis in the text but arises from one’s own speculative reconstruction.
[Many thanks to HarperOne and Kuperard for providing a copy of How Jesus Became God in exchange for a balanced review.]