Jesus And The Hidden Contradictions Of The Gospels

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Bible scholar Bart Ehrman began his studies at the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. Originally an evangelical Christian, Ehrman believed that the Bible was the inerrant word of God. But later, as a student at Princeton Theological Seminary, Ehrman started reading the Bible with a more historical approach and analyzing contradictions in the Gospels.

Ehrman, the author of Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (and Why We Don't Know About Them), tells Terry Gross that he discourages readers from "smash[ing] the four Gospels into one big Gospel and think[ing] that [they] get the true understanding."

"When Matthew was writing, he didn't intend for somebody ... to interpret his Gospel in light of what some other author said. He had his own message," Ehrman says.

To illustrate the differences between the Gospels, Ehrman offers opposing depictions of Jesus talking about himself. In the book of John, Jesus talks about himself and proclaims who he is, saying "I am the bread of life." Whereas in Mark, Jesus teaches principally about the coming kingdom and hardly ever mentions himself directly. These differences offer clues into the perspectives of the authors, and the eras in which they wrote their respective Gospels, according to Ehrman.

"In Mark's Gospel, Jesus is not interested in teaching about himself. But when you read John's Gospel, that's virtually the only thing Jesus talks about is who he is, what his identity is, where he came from," Ehrman says. "This is completely unlike anything that you find in Mark or in Matthew and Luke. And historically it creates all sorts of problems, because if the historical Jesus actually went around saying that he was God, it's very hard to believe that Matthew, Mark and Luke left out that part — you know, as if that part wasn't important to mention. But in fact, they don't mention it. And so this view of the divinity of Jesus on his own lips is found only in our latest Gospel, the Gospel of John."

Ehrman teaches religious studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. His book, Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible, is now out in paperback.

This interview was originally broadcast on March 4, 2009

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