Jesus Before the Gospels by Bart Ehrman

When I was in high school I took several Bible classes. One class in particular focused on the legitimacy of the Bible. The gospels were treated as historical documents. I was taught that the oral traditions of the past were incredibly accurate due to the strict adherence to perfection. Thus, as stories of Jesus were passed on the entire community was completely devoted to making sure the stories were communicated perfectly each time.

As a kid, this made sense to me. As an adult, this makes no sense to me.

The basis of this book is pretty simple: humans have horrible memories. Our memories are fairly faulty on their own, but given time and societal input, our memories are downright atrocious. The gospels were not written by eyewitnesses, in fact, they were probably not written by anyone who had come into contact with any eyewitnesses.

The four canonical gospels of Jesus do have significant differences. Why? Because they are written by different communities for different communities. We see this today. Why are churches in the United States different than churches in Kenya? Why are churches in California different from churches in Texas? Even though they accept the same Jesus, they are different communities.

There is no doubt that Jesus existed. What he said or claimed can be up for debate. As a whole, I didn’t love this book because I found it boring but I loved Ehrman’s conclusion. We can debate the historical accuracy of the gospels (and even the Bible as a whole) but we cannot debate the impact the Bible has on modern society. The gospels may not be historically accurate but they are of historical importance. They do provide beautiful, influential literature.

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