By Keith Thompson
Many Muslims adore the New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman because he is a former Christian who is now a critic of the New Testament. He has authored numerous books attacking the validity of the New Testament including Misquoting Jesus. In turn Ehrman’s claims have been challenged and addressed in subsequent articles and debates.(1) Muslims often exploit Ehrman’s work and parade his anti-Christian rhetoric in videos and articles. But is Ehrman really a hero for Islam? Or does he hold to historical views that are detrimental to Islam?
The aim of this article is to do two things. 1. Show that Bart Ehrman grants four major and fundamental things concerning the life of Jesus and about Christianity that Islam denies. 2. To give reference material to those who are confronted with Muslims who appeal to Bart Ehrman as a hero for Islam. This article will demonstrate that many of Bart Ehrman’s writings are useful tools against Islam.
Topic 1: The Crucifixion of Jesus
The vast majority of Muslims reject the Crucifixion of Christ because their Quran rejects this historical event. In the Quran we read:
"And because of their saying: We slew the Messiah, Jesus son of Mary, Allah's messenger - they slew him not nor crucified him, but it appeared so unto them; and lo! those who disagree concerning it are in doubt thereof; they have no knowledge thereof save pursuit of a conjecture; they slew him not for certain" (Quran 4:157, Pickthall).
It is quite clear that this religion teaches its followers that Jesus’ crucifixion was just an act of deception on the part of Allah. The Quran teaches that Allah deceived everyone to think Jesus was crucified but that it didn’t actually happen historically speaking. This claim is very problematic and it flies in the face of 1st and 2nd century historical data. For this reason the supposed hero of Islam, Bart Ehrman rejects Islam’s position that Jesus wasn’t crucified and he has openly stated that he believes Jesus was crucified according to the available data. In his work ‘The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings,’ he states:
"In any event, Tacitus's report confirms what we know from other sources, that Jesus was executed by order of the Roman governor of Judea, Pontius Pilate."(2)
So it seems that the hero for Islam agrees with the Christians about Jesus being crucified. This is valuable information and is very useful to bring up to anyone who touts Ehrman as the hero of Islam.
Topic 2: Paul the Usurper or Real Apostle of Christ?
Many modern Muslims hate Paul because Paul clearly taught Christ’s divinity in his writings. Even though there is a strong case to be made that Paul was a true apostle according to the Quran and early Muslim sources (*), many Muslims do not hesitate to slander and even mock the Apostle Paul. Many Muslims claim that Paul was not a true apostle. They claim that he simply came in later and corrupted everything somehow.
However, Bart Ehrman does not share this radical belief. In fact Bart Ehrman defends Apostle Paul as an early reliable source of information for the life of Jesus. Ehrman contends that, based on the evidence, the Apostle Paul knew the original disciples of Jesus and became one of them.
In a radio interview the Infidel Guy challenged the notion that Jesus even existed and claimed that there is no real evidence for him existing. Ehrman, confused at the assertion because virtually no scholars hold this view, corrects the deceived radio host. They then debate and Ehrman states the following:
"We have one author who actually knew Jesus’ relatives and knew his disciples… Paul…. It’s not an embellishment that Paul met with James in Jerusalem."(3)
So what we have is Islam’s hero Bart Ehrman destroying modern Muslim belief about Apostle Paul. Ehrman, along with the majority of serious scholarship holds the view that Paul was a true disciple of Jesus Christ who met with the leaders of the early church shortly after Jesus’ crucifixion, not a usurper.
Topic 3: Jesus was buried & His Apostles Reported Visions
Muslims deny that Jesus was crucified. Islam teaches that Jesus was rescued from the cross by Allah and that someone was made to appear like Jesus on the cross. However the hero of Islam, Bart Ehrman, although he disputes the type of burial Jesus had, does concede that Jesus was most likely buried and that his disciples most likely did have visions where they believed they saw the risen Christ!
Dr. Ehrman remarks:
"What I think we can say with some confidence is that Jesus actually did die, he probably was buried, and that some of his disciples (all of them? some of them?) claimed to have seen him alive afterward. Among those who made this claim, interestingly enough, was Jesus’ own brother James, who came to believe in Jesus and soon thereafter became one of the principle leaders of the early Christian church."(4)
Since Islam denies that Jesus died and was buried one can logically assume that they deny that Jesus’ followers had multiple experiences in which they thought that they had seen the risen Christ. I am not aware of any Islamic text which states that the post resurrection appearances were delusions from Allah. However the supposed hero of Islam grants all of this based on the early data. It looks like Bart Ehrman holds to historical views which undermine Islam in a very strong way.
Topic 4: Does the Bible anywhere teach that Jesus is God?
It is a common theme for Muslims to assert that nowhere in the Bible does it teach that Jesus is God. Many debates have been waged on this very subject. Muslims believe that it is shirk (unforgivable sin) to associate partners with Allah. This is why Muslims will try to make a case that the Bible doesn’t teach that Jesus is God. Because they don’t understand the Trinitarian doctrine they believe we are associating another being with God. However the Trinity doctrine teaches that there is one being of God existing in three persons, not three beings. One Muslim apologist Sami Zaatari has stated:
"I don’t believe the first four gospels of Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John … I don’t believe preach he is God at all. I believe they preach that he is the Messiah, a prophet and that’s it. And he did mighty miracles and great works."(5)
This is a bold claim but does Islam’s anti-Christian hero Bart Ehrman share the same view as Zaatari? Or does Bart Ehrman admit that there are passages in the Gospels that teach Jesus’ deity?
Bart Ehrman refutes Zaatari’s distortion and states:
These are the verses which Ehrman believes attest to Jesus’ divinity in the Gospel of John:
"Jesus said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I am." (John 8:58, NASB)"I and the Father are one." (John 10:30, NASB)"Thomas answered and said to Him, "My Lord and my God!" (John 20:28, NASB)
Although Muslim apologists will claim that the Gospels don’t teach that Jesus is God, Islam’s supposed hero Bart Ehrman lists three passages in the Gospel of John that he feels clearly attest to Christ’s divinity.
In conclusion, we learn that Ehrman grants many things that Islam emphatically denies which should make people wonder why they hold this man in such a high view. We learn that Ehrman accepts four important historical facts that Islam rejects about Jesus and early Christianity. Ehrman grants Jesus’ death on the cross, the reliability of Paul as an apostle and acquaintance of the disciples, Jesus’ burial, that Jesus’ followers had experiences in which they believe Jesus appeared to them, and that the Gospel of John teaches the deity of Christ. This information should be useful to anyone who is confronted by Muslims who tout Bart Ehrman as a hero for Islam. Bart Ehrman’s views should in fact be used as a weapon against Islam.
Christ has risen, he is Lord.
2.) Bart Ehrman, The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings, Oxford University Press, 2000], p. 197
3.) Infidel Guy Interview with Bart Ehrman (31:50 – 35:38)
4.) Bart Ehrman, Jesus, Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium, [Oxford University Press US, 1999], p.229
5.) Sam Shamoun vs Sami Zaatari Debate: Is Jesus God? Time slice (3:49 – 4:05)
6.) Bart Ehrman, Whose Word Is It? [Continuum International Publishing Group, 2006], p. 161