Epistles of Thomas

December 3, 2008

Bart Ehrman on suffering

Filed under: Uncategorized — Thomas @ 15:03
Tags: , ,

I just watched Bart Ehrman’s lecture of April 17, 2008 at UC Berkeley entitled God’s Problem and Human Solutions: How the Bible Explains Suffering. To say that it was uninspiring would be an understatement. Ehrman began by rehearsing several theories that have been posited over the centuries with regard to the cause of suffering. He listed three statements that he said must be dealt with in order to understand human suffering:

1) God is all powerful.
2) God is all loving.
3) There is suffering.

He then considers the response of the prophets which framed suffering within the context of Israel’s disobedience. He then considered the apocalyptic literature which framed suffering within the context of a battle between good and evil. In considering the New Testament he made much of the idea that Jesus thought he would be returning soon and the NT authors expected him to come at any time. These things have all been dealt with by more able scholars than Ehrman so to have him summarily dismiss the Old and New Testaments as wrong was a bold move (as is my dismissing him with that statement;-).

Most disappointing of all was his response to suffering. He pointed to the book of Ecclesiastes and read it as a primer for how to deal with suffering: eat, drink, and be merry for one day we die. His answer is to sit around drinking single malt scotch and discussing the big questions of life. Oh and as an aside perhaps we could help the poor and give to famine relief, etc. I wonder who is going to be running the aid programs, famine relief, clean water projects, etc.? We will all be sitting around enjoying life, drinking single malt.

He calls his answer not a solution but a response. A meaningless response is what I call it. Does he really think anyone is going to do anything about suffering if they take his approach. He says he didn’t become a great sinner when he left Christianity. This begs the question, “Was he ever a Christian?” It also cause me to wonder how he judges “sin.” I don’t see how his response is better than someone who gives up on changing things, saying that everything is going to hell in a handbasket so what can they do about it anyway. Let (non)God figure it out. I’ll be interested to see where Ehrman goes from here because I only see a dead end given this response.



  1. Ehrman should have stayed with textual criticism.
    That’s his job.
    On anything else he is just as a layman as we all.

    Comment by Wieland Willker — December 4, 2008 @ 1:00 | Reply

  2. I think it was his work on textual criticism that distracted him from the Gospel. His The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture: The Effect of Early Christological Controversies on the Text of the New Testament was published at about the time he became an agnostic (according to the dating given in his speech). He confused this corruption with thinking that the Bible is inherently corrupt, not realising that this “Orthodox corruption” was an attempt to make clearer what they already understood, not the introduction of anything new. If we remove every “orthodox corruption” that he investigates we are still left with the orthodox Christianity that we have today. Unorthodox Christianity was prevented from gaining a foothold but its exclusion was not as a result of violating the original text.

    Comment by Thomas — December 4, 2008 @ 11:08 | Reply

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