Bart Ehrman: Chronology Fallacy

Another of Erhman’s claims is that the gospels are not chronological. Ehrman is very astute on identifying that the events across the four gospels do not align.

For example, the Gospel of Mark indicates that it was in the last week of his life that Jesus “cleansed the Temple” by overturning the tables of the money changers and saying, “This is to be a house of prayer . . . but you have made it a den of thieves” (Mark 11), whereas according to John this happened at the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry (John 2).

This might be a problem if the authors of the four gospels ever claimed to be writing a chronological history. Again, modern standards are being inconsistently and retroactively applied to the authors of the gospels. Additionally, modern historians often record history out of chronological order. There are many different ways to sort events: by subject matter, to illustrate points, chronologically, or even haphazardly, to name a few. In normal human conversation, non-chronological order is the norm. If a person is talking about their childhood they might just report events as they come to mind. If a person is talking about their events last week, order of significance makes the most sense. If a person is detailing the lives of multiple historical individuals, then events may be sorted by individual and then sub-sorted by chronology. Just because events are not always reported chronologically, this fact does not negate the truth of the report.

Why do the gospels often not align chronologically? Bart Ehrman hits the nail on the head: “Once one comes to realize that the Bible might have discrepancies it is possible to see that the Gospels of Mark and John might want to teach something different about the cleansing of the Temple, and so they have located the event to two different times of Jesus’ ministry.”

Sadly, Ehrman then comes to a false conclusion:

Historically speaking, then, the accounts are not reconcilable.

This conclusion is very odd coming from someone who has, himself, written extensively on historical events, and not always chronological. In his lecture notes on “From Jesus to Constantine— A History of Early Christianity”, Ehrman transverses 300+ years of history multiple times according to subject matter. Even within lessons, not everything is chronological. In his lesson on “The Christianization of the Roman Empire” he talks about the numbers of converts from Christ through Constantine and then afterwards reflects on the various reasons for each generation for those stated numbers. Is Erhman recording history? Why does he jump around chronologically? Chronological inconstancies in the gospels should be held at the same standards (as well as allowing for adjustment in cultural standards).

About christopher fisher

The blog is meant for educational/entertainment purposes. All material can be used and reproduced in any length for any purpose as long as I am cited as the source.
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