A Brief Review of
Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible.
Hardcover: HarperOne, 2009.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]
Reviewed by Chris Smith.
Bart Ehrman’s most recent book JESUS, INTERRUPTED is one of the most popular books today on Scripture and theology. Ehrman, who by his own admission grew up conservative, and eventually as a result of his scholarly work was led away from the Christian faith and into agnosticism. In this book, Ehrman details the “hidden” contradictions in the Bible that have been uncovered by historical-critical scholarship. Although Ehrman’s tone overall is not overly combative (he repeatedly insists that one scriptural scholarship does not necessarily dictate a rejection of the Christian faith), one of his primary objectives is to debunk naive misconceptions about the Bible and its origins. Indeed, JESUS, INTERRUPTED could be taken as a popular survey of the present state of scriptural studies. There are, as Ehrman emphasizes, significant challenges to the idea of biblical inerrancy and the popular modernist notion that scripture is true according to Western scientific/philosophical standards of consistency, etc.
However, Ehrman makes a grave error in basing his arguments on the false dichotomy between “devotional” readings of scripture (rooted in individual practice) and “scholarly” readings (rooted in the academy). A hermeneutic practice that is rooted in the discernment of the church community and draws at times upon both devotional and scholarly readings is apparently unknown to Ehrman. Such a practice of reading scripture together was common among the early Anabaptists (see Essays on Biblical Interpretation: Anabaptist-Mennonite Perspectives, W. Swartley, editor) and is likewise relevant in our postmodern age when modern squabbles about texts, their origins and meaning have taken a back seat to a holistic view of scripture as the broad historical story about the One who is the Truth (see Fowl and Jones READING IN COMMUNION or Scot McKnight’s THE BLUE PARAKEET).
JESUS, INTERRUPTED is a fine book expositing as it does the challenges that historical-criticism poses to some modernist – and dare I say, idolatrous – views of scripture. However, in the end, its value to the Church is limited because despite the broad cultural relevance that the Bible has found in modern, Western culture, it is primarily a book for the Church, the people of God. Indeed, the Church is the stumbling block which topples Ehrman. No wonder he has found frustration and ultimately rejection of the Christian faith, for it is only in the obedient, covenanted relationship to the church community – a relationship that is lacking in both the devotional and scholarly readings of scripture – that the Holy Spirit begins to reveal the meaning of scripture.
C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also author of a number of books, including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019). Connect with him online at: C-Christopher-Smith.com