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Bart Ehrman examines how memories of Jesus morphed and changed

Bart D. Ehrman, photo courtesy of HarperOne
Bart D. Ehrman, photo courtesy of HarperOne

New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman, a professor of religious studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, is a superstar author of 30 books on Christianity. Photo courtesy of HarperOne

(RNS) New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman, a professor of religious studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, is a superstar author of 30 books on Christianity. He is known to his legion of readers as a scholar who has spent his academic career debunking long-held assumptions of traditional Christian belief.

His most recent book continues that trajectory. “Jesus Before the Gospels: How the Earliest Christians Remembered, Changed and Invented Their Stories of the Savior” applies contemporary memory science to the oral traditions of the early Christians. He sat down for an interview with RNS. The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Q: What did you most want to convey to readers of this book?

A: I wanted to introduce a general audience to something scholars have thought for a long time — that there was a 40- to 65-year gap between the time Jesus died and the earliest accounts of his life. So I wanted to talk about what was happening to the stories of Jesus in those years as people were telling and retelling them and look at how the stories were shaped and changed and eventually invested in Christian memory.

Q: Did you discover anything new about the Gospels?

A: Yes, several things. The Gospel of Matthew, which contains the Sermon on the Mount, was written around 85 C.E., a 50-year gap from when Jesus gave it. I started to wonder how is it possible for someone to know 50 years later what someone said at the Sermon on the Mount? I came to realize how implausible it is. I certainly think there are sayings in the Sermon on Mount that Jesus said, but the idea that he gave this sermon just the way it is laid down in Matthew is improbable. It is a memory rather than something that actually happened in Jesus’ life.

"Jesus Before the Gospels," by Bart D. Ehrman. Photo courtesy of HarperOne

“Jesus Before the Gospels” by Bart D. Ehrman. Photo courtesy of HarperOne

And I had long puzzled over the passage in the Gospel that says when Jesus was arrested in the garden, one or more of his disciples pulled a sword to defend him. I had been inclined to think that is probably a historical event. It didn’t seem like the kind of story that a follower of Jesus would make up — that Jesus had armed followers, that he wasn’t a pacifist. But in working on the book, I came to think if Jesus’ disciples had actually pulled swords why weren’t they also arrested? I think that shows the account cannot be historical, and I try to explain where that story came from. I think Jesus really did have a saying, “Live by the sword, die by the sword.” But what often happens in oral traditions is a story will emerge to produce context for a clever saying. So I now think this story emerged as context for “if you live by the sword you die by the sword.”

Q: Why does it matter whether Jesus actually said something or the Gospel writers conveyed the idea of what he said?

A: There are a lot of people who read the Bible in a very literalistic way and use the Bible for all sorts of hateful and wicked purposes. They have used it to support slavery, some continue to use it to support racism. They certainly use it to oppress women and people with a different sexual orientation. My own view is that it is a terrible use of the Bible. So if you can show some stories in the Bible cannot be taken literally, that can loosen up that interpretation and the Bible is not then as misused.

What I argue in the book is even though the historical Jesus is important, it is also important to think about how Jesus was remembered by Christians in the early church and that Jesus is being remembered in all sorts of contradictory ways today. People who buy into the prosperity gospel remember Jesus as the one who taught them a program they need to follow in order to become wealthy. People who believe Jesus was actually more concerned with the poor remember Jesus as someone who said you should give all your possessions away to others. Both of these can’t be right. So it is important to know what happened historically and to evaluate the memories of Jesus to see if some are better than others.

The big point I make in the book is how Jesus is remembered is more important than the historical Jesus because the historical Jesus did not make history. He is a construct of scholars. The memory of Jesus affects 2 billion people today and they are not following the historical Jesus. They are following a Jesus they have in their minds. So the remembered Jesus is even more important than the historical Jesus.

Q: How do you balance the need for historical accuracy with respect for faith?

A: I am not a theologian and I think the best theologians realize that the findings of history may challenge some people’s faith. But true Christian faith, in the opinion of these theologians, is not simply about the facts of history, and the facts of history cannot really touch true Christian faith.

(Kimberly Winston is a national correspondent for RNS)

About the author

Kimberly Winston

Kimberly Winston is a freelance religion reporter based in the San Francisco Bay Area.


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  • The entire paragraph beginning with, “A: There are a lot of people who read the Bible in a very literalistic way and use the Bible for all sorts of hateful and wicked purposes. …” is the most sensible thing I have ever heard anyone say about the Bible. Those sentiments could, if needed, serve as a solid starting point for discourse between Christians and atheists on the modern day relevance of the Bible.

  • Counterpoint: google “Richard Bauckham.” Ie his Oxford UP “Very Short Introduction” to Jesus. Here Ehrman makes no acknowledgement of oral cultures different from written.

  • Dr. Ehrman does address that (of course not in this very short interview), but does address it in his classes.

    Specifically, while some may have thought that oral cultures would care more about oral accuracy, but this is asserted without evidence. It seems at least, or more, likely that in oral cultures, there was less concern to get a story exactly the same as it was said before – because, there is no way to check on it anyway, and so the broader point being conveyed (such as evangelism) becomes more important than being bothered by the facts.

  • Mr Ehrman’s acknowledgement of oral traditions has been made in his work. I assure you, his knowledge goes well beyond these 4 questions. Oral tradition is how Jesus grew so big as to put his head above the clouds, in the Gospel of Peter.

  • I would basically agree Jon, except that in studying this and other oral cultures, changing the story was expected of the storyteller. We see it in the gospels, as Jesus becomes more god-like along the timeline of the 4 gospels.

  • Here is a good sum of Ehrman’s scholarly critics, including Craig Blomberg, a friend of his:

    Daniel Wallace deems Ehrman “one of North America’s leading textual critics,” but says he “overstates his case by assuming..his view is…correct.”
    He says Ehrman admits most textual variants are minor, but sometimes makes their number seem a major problem for getting to the original NT text. Craig Blomberg agrees.

    Andreas J. Köstenberger, Darrell L. Bock and Josh D. Chatraw criticize him for how he cites the “modern scholarly consensus”:

    “It is only by defining scholarship on his own terms and by excluding scholars who disagree with him that Ehrman is able to imply that he is supported by all other scholarship.”

    Chatraw suggests that “Ehrman represents a segment of biblical scholarship which he often implies is the only legitimate brand of scholarship, and he rarely exposes lay readers to the best arguments of opposing views.”

  • Correction – In quoting Professor Wallace’s view, I should have included “certainly” before “correct.” Obviously everyone who has a view on anything believes it to be “correct.” I should have kept the preceding word, “certainly” in that sentence, to make clear that Wallace’s criticism was based on unwarranted level of certainty that Ehrman displays, particularly on issues he knows are hotly contested by reputable scholars of his rank.

    One example is in the above interview, when he states without reservation that the Gospel of Matthew was written around 85 AD/CE. Lots of scholars find that a dubious assertion, given that Luke, which was written around the same time, was probably written when Paul was still alive, in the AD 60s, since Acts, Luke’s sequel, ends with Paul very much alive. Paul was likely beheaded by Nero around 65.

  • Depends on the culture. For the Hawaiians, many of their chants were required to be memorized exactly, because they were genealogies.

  • One of the biggest problems that Ehrman has is his use of particular methodologies of textual criticism that fail to account for how historians normally assess fact vs. fiction when looking at texts. Often he mistakenly assumes that if a text or portion can’t be corroborated elsewhere, it’s been effectively debunked. That’s a serious no-no in historiography, as Professor Blomberg notes elsewhere. It is not the absence of corroboration, but the presence of material contradiction, that debunks a text. That’s a crucial point which Ehrman either never knew or has forgotten.

  • That’s looking at things backwards. The honest way of interpreting any communication by another human being, be it verbal or textual, is to seek out what the communicator meant when producing the communication. IN other words, original intent.

    Anything less is dishonesty. It’s more honest to look at intent squarely in the face and say we disagree vehemently with the writer than to massage the writer’s words to pretend he or she agrees with us.

    When it comes to issues like slavery, for example, yes it would have been nice if the Biblical writers were abolitionists, but sadly they were not. We just need to deal with that reality. For some of us, that means we toss the Bible into the dumpster in disgust. For others, it means digging a bit deeper. But either response — tossing or digging — is more honest than pretending it doesn’t say what it does say.

    We need to look at it unflinchingly rather than sentimentally.

  • Ben, it is probable that this was also true of .ancient Hebraic culture. It’s apparent, at least, that in the post-Biblical era, memorization of the written text has been encouraged and prized in Jewish communities across the world. Assuming that distinct habits endure across time within cultures, it’s reasonable to believe that this memorization occurred before things were written down.

  • Most ancient people could not read or write. Oral tradition was only way to pass down stories. People change tales, and add meanings for different purpose. Not to mean that original story never happened.

  • But Jack, that removed the whole idea of subtext and Freudian slippage.

    It’s sort of like listening to Bryan Fischer go on and on and on, in great and loving detail, about how horrible are of those things are that gay people do to Escher, which he describes in a veritable orgy of orgiastic detail. Why, you’d almost think that he thinks about nothing at all more than he does of all of the hot, sweaty mansex that he does go into in such great detail over.

    Original intent is great as far as it goes, buts it’s no guarantee of anything.

  • I have much respect for Dr. Ehrman and his work, but he does seem to have some of that christian malarkey stuck in his mind. There are issues he will not give up, even though his own research would seem to disprove them.

  • Interestingly enough, it is the Talmud that clears up the mystery of the two genealogies by identifying Mary the mother of Jesus as the “daughter of Heli.”

  • I just reread my comment. i didn’t say what I meant to say. I would much appreciate it if the moderator would delete it.

  • What?

    Errorman back at it again. James White already soundly refuted him.

    What percentage of Christians are blowing people up these days? Suicide bombers…? Attacks in Paris?

    Is that the prominent face of Christianity?

    What percentage of people historically have been killed by “Christian” movements?

    Answer: 3.23%

    Check out these bad boys:

    Joseph Stalin – 42,672,000
    Mao Zedong – 37,828,000
    Adolf Hitler – 20,946,000
    Chiang Kai-shek – 10,214,000
    Vladimir Lenin – 4,017,000
    Hideki Tojo – 3,990,000
    Pol Pot – 2,397,0003

    So, I’d push for limited government way over blaming Christians.

    Besides…What moral grounds does Errorman have to claim anything is bad or wrong?

    Evolved pond scum’s ultimate reality is it is evolved pond scum…No intrinsic value, nothing worthy of dignity…Just pond scum…

    So, while that might be an opinion, who cares? Who cares if pond scum gets killed? You’d be inconsistent if claimed…

  • I get your point, Ben.

    Very creatively made, but you’re like a great lawyer stuck with a lemon of a case.

  • Why make Matthew’s Gospel the example of distance? Mark was written probably around c. 70 — only 35 years (roughly) after the death of Jesus. I’m 50 years old, and I can remember things said to me 35 years ago…

    I still hold for higher criticism of the NT texts, but it seems that (1) the incredibly small demographic size of the mid-first century Christianity, and (2) the short span between historical events and extant written formulations of Jesus’s teaching/actions (c. 50 CE for 1Thes), make me conclude there there is more historical information in the texts than contemporary scholars in the main admit.

    Frankly, I think many are uncomfortable with having to deal with the Resurrection issue and so its easier to deny the texts transmit much of historical value. They can simply write off the claims of the first disciples as simply a later theological creation.

  • Yep, that makes a lot of sense – the clear evidence of the gospels themselves shows the changes done in the storytelling. The Jesus of John is so radically different from the Jesus of Mark. In John, Jesus Jesus never casts out a single demon, talks incessantly about himself, never does anything special with the bread and wine at supper, does showy miracles explicitly to convince people that he’s the messiah, is never baptized, transfigured, or tempted, says nothing about the poor and oppressed, never says the Lord’s prayer, and never even tells a freakin’ parable! The opposite is seen in the gospel of Mark.

  • Jack is wrong – the gospels were written by greek speaking gentiles, not Jews, so the Hebrew culture is irrelevant – and even if it were, we know that the Hebrew culture didn’t do that anyway – that’s why they had extensive scriptoriums for writing things down.

    Shawnie is wrong. The genealogies hopelessly contradict each other more than once (and also contradict the same genealogy given in 1st Chronicles). Another example: they both list Shealtiel and Zerubbabel as father and son, but with different fathers before that! Luke says Heli is Joseph’s father, not Mary’s. If the talmud did say otherwise, then Shawnie is saying to go by the Talmud and disregard Luke. The Jews (who know the Talmud) list many reasons why the Luke’s genealogy doesn’t help, and these are listed in footnote #1, here:

  • What was the average life span of 1st century humans? I ask that to determine how many generations passed between Jesus’ death and the Gospel creations? Do we know who wrote all 4 of them?
    “There are a lot of people who read the Bible in a very literalistic way and use the Bible for all sorts of hateful and wicked purposes. They have used it to support slavery, some continue to use it to support racism. They certainly use it to oppress women and people with a different sexual orientation. My own view is that it is a terrible use of the Bible. So if you can show some stories in the Bible cannot be taken literally, that can loosen up that interpretation and the Bible is not then as misused.”
    Dr. Ehrman relates a critical problem with contemporary conservative Christian’s bible exploitation. From anecdotal experience I know that many former Christians left the faith due to just such misuse. I believe that I’ve seen surveys or polls affirming that, but I am not good at finding…

  • On the contrary, Jon, the evidence is that every NT writer, with the possible exception of Luke, was a first-century Jew, from Galilee, Judea, or the Diaspora.

    The writer of John’s Gospel, for instance, evidences a thorough first-hand knowledge of the people, places, customs, & happenings of first-century Galilee and Judea. He describes with accuracy and precision structures that later were leveled with the Roman destruction of 70-73 CE/AD. He describes the distances between obscure towns and villages that were later destroyed. He describes the physical layout and the ceremonies of the Temple, even though that, too, was destroyed by 70. He also gives us a matter-of-fact, inside-baseball account of the rivalry between the apostles John and Peter, as well as an accounting of the deliberations among Jesus and the apostles over such things as when to cross over from Galilee into Judea on their various journeys.

  • The writer of John’s Gospel, as part of his “inside-baseball” accounts, reveals fascinating little details, such as that John got Peter into the courtyard of the high priest right before the trial of Jesus because John was “known to” the high priest, meaning that there was some sort of relationship, perhaps familial, between this key disciple of Jesus, and their archenemy, Caiaphas, the high priest. Basically, as a courtesy to John, Caiaphas or someone acting on his behalf let Peter in.

    This sort of granular detail really speaks volumes of who the author was…at the very least, he was part of the original group of followers of Jesus, all of whom were Jews. Someone writing from another place and time would not be providing anything like the richness in detail we see through the gospel.

  • Right, Nick. Different forms of biblical criticism have their place, but the problem is when, in the hands of a biased scholar, they end up claiming too much.

    You make good points as well about timing. Even if Mark was written around 70, then, as you imply, there would still be eyewitnesses present from the time of Jesus. (I tend to think Mark was written as early as 60 or a bit earlier, since it was the first gospel and Luke was probably written no later than the mid-60s, since its sequel, Acts, ends with Paul still alive, and Paul was beheaded in the mid-60s during Nero’s persecution.)

  • Glad you mentioned the work of Bauckham (Jesus and the Eyewitnesses). I am persuaded by his work more than that of Ehrman’s. Considering Early Church oral tradition in the light of contemporary memory lapses is a bit far fetched. It’s like saying that since today’s memories are more trustworthy or reliable than 2000 years ago then our “now” view is better than their “then” view. However, the problem is that we are in the “now” and they were in the “then”. So I conclude that their “then” is more reliable than our “now”!!
    Blessings, Bruno

  • Jack, it sounds like you’ve mistaken made up details for reported facts. It’s easy to add details to an account being made up. Details of the temple are similarly unhelpful – if the temple was destroyed, how are you verifying the said details? From other accounts? Those other accounts themselves show that the old details were common knowledge. Your post is a string of baseless assertions, many obviously false. For instance, it’s obvious that none of the gospel writers were eyewitnesses, and you can see this yourself. Mark makes clear geographic blunders about cities in Israel, and Luke and Mt copy Mark (why would they do that if they had been there themselves)? and as pointed out earlier, John’s gospel doesn’t fit them at all. If you want to back any of your post up, go ahead and do so.

  • “The Jews (who know the Talmud) list many reasons why the Luke’s genealogy doesn’t help”

    They list reasons why Luke’s genealogy doesn’t qualify Jesus as the Messiah (in their opinion). Their list doesn’t demonstrate any reason why the Talmud’s reference need be incorrect.

    “Luke says Heli is Joseph’s father, not Mary’s. If the talmud did say otherwise, then Shawnie is saying to go by the Talmud and disregard Luke.” Actually it doesn’t even say Joseph was the “son” of Heli. It simply says that Jesus was “son” (huios) of Joseph, then connects him with the rest of the line by the word “of” (tou). IOW, Jesus was the supposed son of Joseph, of Heli, of Matthat, of Levi, etc.

    It makes sense for Luke to have used Mary’s genealogy as he very likely interviewed Mary and used much material in his gospel that only she would have known. Also he traces Jesus not just from Abraham but from Adam — as the “Seed of the woman” who would overcome Satan and restore…

  • Or perhaps, as the early church fathers confirmed, John’s gospel was written to supplement what the synoptics had already recorded, not to rehash it.

  • That sounds more plausible, Shawnie.

    And clearly, the supplemental material that the writer of John provides is invaluable.

    While theologians focus on the developed theology of John’s Gospel, equally striking is its rich, granular detailing of the people, places, physical structures and customs of first-century, pre-70 CE/AD Galilee and Judea. The writer casually displays a personal knowledge of every nook and cranny of both provinces, including geographic distances between places. He also is familiar with specific practices within the Temple in Jerusalem. He has a remarkable insider’s view of such things as the rivalry between the apostles John and Peter, which comes up several times. The fact that John comes out looking better each time may reveal John to be the gospel author. He also reveals the deliberations among Jesus and the apostles over such things as when to cross into Judea from Galilee.

  • Jon, we have a wealth of archeological evidence, as well as written evidence from the Talmud and other Jewish sources, that back up John’s Gospel as to such details. There’s no question that the writer is speaking from extensive first-hand knowledge. He gets names and places, distances and structures, rituals and ceremonies, correct. And he speaks from an unmistakably first-century Galilean Jewish perspective. Jews from Galilee and Jews from Judea had a generally tense relationship, and the writer is Exhibit A in his use of the word, “ioudaioi”, which can mean “Judeans,” in a pejorative way to depict the corrupt pro-Roman chief priests in Jerusalem, the seat of Judea. Galilee of course was a hotbed of anti-Roman sentiment. (Ironically, the writer may have been a relative of the high priest.)

  • Jon, even if we didn’t know about first-century, pre-70 Israel from archeological finds and contemporaneous descriptions, the sheer wealth and richness of detail that the writer of John provides on every aspect of life of that time would impress any objective historian who recalls the rules of historical evidence. The key rule is that the pedestrian details of a document are presumed factual until proven otherwise. There has to be clearly contradictory material somewhere or the details stand.

    Again, when it comes to John’s Gospel, we have plenty of corroboration elsewhere on details, but that’s icing on the cake. Even if we had none of it, there’s nothing either within or outside of that Gospel that would contradict the content of the details.

    It is truly a remarkable document in that regard….something scholars were somehow blinded to until recent decades, because they were focused on its high theology, thus missing the elephant in the room.

  • Re: “Why make Matthew’s Gospel the example of distance?”

    Because it alone contains a single long passage, the Sermon on the Mount, which is ostensibly the content of a teaching he delivered at a single event. (A shorter version of what’s probably the same single passage is in Luke, i.e. the Sermon on the Plain).

    Ehrman is simply pointing out that it’s extremely unlikely, if not impossible, for the Sermon on the Mount actually to have been what it ostensibly seems to be. Thus, he calls it a memory, not a record.

    Re: “… make me conclude there there is more historical information in the texts than contemporary scholars in the main admit.”

    Actually, Ehrman concludes the same! He is convinced those texts show that a Jesus actually lived, and he’s convinced some of his actions are recorded within them. See his book from a few years ago, “Did Jesus Exist?” (a question he answers with an emphatic “yes”).

  • As Robert Hutchinson noted in his book “Searching for Jesus”, quoting Ehrman “these textual facts can be interesting, but there is nothing in them to challenge their faith”.

    In other words, there may be reasons to be skeptical, but inaccurate NT texts are not one of them”.

  • One has to remember that in John’s gospel, 5:2, the Pool of Bethseda is still standing. That area was destroyed in 70 AD. So internal evidence would place the last Gospel written ( Muratorian Fragment date ~160 AD), sometime prior. Or implying the other three were for the most part completed earlier, within about 30 years of Jesus.

    A manuscripts P66, dated from about 150 AD, has the Pool in the present tense.

  • Shawnie- you stated that Luke doesn’t say joseph is the son of Heli,yet it does, because “of” shows “son of”, which is why the NIV states it as such. Or are you going to claim that the whole genealogy doesn’t mean “son of”? Here’s Luke 3:23 :

    “Now Jesus … was the son, so it was thought, of Joseph, the son of Heli, the son of Matthat,…”

    Plus, you ignored the Shealteal contradiction and more. Then you started making stuff up about Luke interviewing Mary? Wow – why not just write out the Gosple of Shawnie? You could continue making stuff up that way.

    Jack- I asked for support, and instead you just reiterated your claims and made up new ones. The longer you go without actually citing traceable sources, the clearer it is that you are simply making stuff up.

  • Jon, I answered you on the archeological & written evidence backing John’s Gospel, from the location & description of physical structures to the Temple ceremonies, and second, on what you keep dodging — which is that historians view such textual details as accurate absent contradictory material. And no, they don’t play “gotcha” games. When a possible contradiction arises, they seek reconciliation.

    So it’s your burden to show irreconcilable material contradictions . Go argue with the history profession if you hate this standard of proof. It’s rooted in common sense — writers have better things to do than pretend to provide accurate, granular detail on every aspect of life in a particular time, place, and culture.

    Clearly the writer is a first-century Jew from Israel, specifically Galilee, and probably one of the original disciples, given the “insider” details he provides in a matter-of-fact way.

  • J_Bob, you’re absolutely right. Moreover, other structures have been excavated.

    Pardon my ignorance, but is the fragment you mentioned the same as the one found in Syria back in the 1930s? My guess is no, because that one has previously been dated around 110 AD/CE, give or take a decade.

    It’s amazing how the same old biases from a century ago still lay hold of people’s imaginations despite the myriads of archeological finds which debunk them.

  • So, Jon, it’s OK for you to “make up stuff” about the gospel authors not being who EVERYONE in the first centuries AD unanimously agreed that they were, but not OK for me to surmise that Luke probalby interviewed the one and only person who would know the information he presents in his first three chapters??? Riiiiiight.

    “Or are you going to claim that the whole genealogy doesn’t mean “son of”” I’m saying quite plainly that the genealogy says “son” exactly once, in reference to Jesus Himself, then proceeds to list an entire line of men that He is son “of.” Which is entirely proper — just as much so as when He is styled numerous times as the “son of” David, His remote ancestor. Matthew, on the other hand, specifically states that each man listed was the “son of” (huioi) the preceding man.

  • “You ignored the Shealteal contradiction” Because the Shealteal and Zerubbabel listed by Luke are probably completely different men from the two listed by Matthew. Those two men were heroes of their times, and it would not be at all unusual for many children to be named after them. I myself have three different George Washingtons and two Thomas Jeffersons on my family tree for that very reason.

  • Glad you mentioned the work of Bauckham (Jesus and the Eyewitnesses). I am persuaded by his work more than that of Ehrman’s. Considering Early Church oral tradition in the light of contemporary memory lapses is a bit farfetched. It’s like saying that since today’s memories, scientifically speaking, are not trustworthy or reliable in the “now” then surely the “then ” memories of 2000 years ago must be even worse. That’s highly speculative by way of retroactive thinking. So I prefer to conclude that since the scientific method was not available “then” and the oral tradition a powerful incentive to remember events, the “then” is more reliable than our “now” looking back!!
    Blessings, Bruno

  • As I read down through the thread under this particular comment I was impressed with the discourse which held together pretty well til – as it always seems to do – the argument falls into nit picking over details no one can really know, just ascertain from their interpretation.

    And so, if the WRITTEN words of the Talmud and the Christian scriptures can’t find common ground in meaning, how in the world could an accurate, intact oral tradition survive unscathed by man’s need for Jesus to be what man BELIEVES he IS/was?

    The truth as I have discovered is, that those who mince sacred documents into smaller and smaller pieces – however well intentioned or scholarly – are like people in an art museum, who creep closer and closer to the picture til (if possible) they have their nose pushed up against the canvas.

    The only way to understand the picture of God is to sit back on your bench and look at the whole picture. And enjoy it for what it is.

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