Was Jesus a Failed Apocalyptic Prophet?

By Cris D. Putnam

A popular view amongst skeptics is that Jesus was failed apocalyptic prophet.  Their argument centers on the Olivet discourse in Mark 13:30 where Jesus says, “Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.” They contend that this means Jesus predicted his return in power prior to the death of the disciples and that since this failed to happen, Jesus is proven a false prophet.  Atheist websites galore use this as a proof text. Even a few serious scholars do as well.  For instance, Bart Ehrman argues:

Jesus appears to have anticipated that the coming judgment of God, to be brought by the Son of Man in a cosmic act of destruction and salvation, was imminent. It could happen at any time. But it would certainly happen within his generation.[1]

Albert Schweitzer held a similar position:

At the end of His career Jesus establishes a connection between the Messianic conception, in its final transformation, and the Kingdom, which had retained its eschatological character; He goes to His death for the Messiahship in its new significance, but He goes on believing in His speedy return as the Son of Man.[2]

These are established scholars and we must take them seriously. However, are they really being honest with the data? More so, are they accounting for all of the data or merely pulling a verse from its context because it seems to infer an error on Jesus’ part.

I was listening to Gary Habermas’ lecture on the historical Jesus and an interesting question surfaced concerning Mark 13:32,

But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father (Mk 13:32).

Habermas uses this verse to demonstrate that Jesus’ messianic title “Son of Man” (cf. Dan 7:13) was not added later (no one would claim Jesus was God and then add a verse claiming he did not know something).  Theologically, this verse is an embarrassing detail so it has an air of authenticity.[3] But more importantly, this verse appears directly after Jesus’ alleged prediction that he would return in his own generation. Doesn’t it seem odd that Jesus would predict his return within a very narrow time frame (his own generation) and then immediately say that he did not know when it would be? Actually, it seems incoherent for a reason. The skeptics have it wrong.

Jesus did not really teach that his return would be imminent. In fact, he provided hints it would not be. In Jesus’ parable about the ten talents, which is clearly about him leaving and then returning, he includes a pertinent detail, “Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them” (Mt 25:19). The parable of the Ten Virgins is another one which is centered on Jesus’ return and it provides a similar clue, “As the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and slept” (Mt 25:5). Craig Blomberg asks why Jesus would bother addressing so many worldly matters if he really believed as the critics suggest:

the majority of Jesus’ teaching presupposes a significant interval before the end of the world, because Christ spends much time instructing his disciples on such mundane matters as paying taxes, marriage and divorce, dealing with one’s enemies, stewardship of wealth, and so on.[4]

Jesus also implied an extended period of world evangelization, “And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come”( Mt 24:14). It seems absurd to argue that Jesus and the apostles would have expected world evangelization in their lifetime. This begs the question what did Jesus mean by this generation.

From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place (Mk 13:28-30).

The “these things” of v. 30 must be the same as the “these things” of v. 29, which clearly refer to signs preceding Christ’s second coming. Jesus was teaching that the generation who witnessed the signs he had previously outlined in chapter 13 would see his return. There has been no other generation in history prior to our own that has seen these signs in such abundance.

Get a signed copy of Pandemonium’s Engine here for $10.00

[1] Bart D. Ehrman, Jesus, Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium (Oxford: Oxford University Press, USA, 1999),160.

[2] Albert Schweitzer, The Quest of the Historical Jesus (Joseph Kreifels).

[3] If you are interested in how Jesus can be God and not know something, the solution lies in his two natures human and divine. Look into the two minds view here.

[4] Craig Blomberg, in Michael J. Wilkins, Jesus Under Fire: Modern Scholarship Reinvents the Historical Jesus (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1996), 31.

Jesus Myther “Infidel Guy” Schooled by Agnostic Bart Ehrman

There exists a lunatic fringe of skepticism that insists Jesus never existed. Most of it stems from the work of discredited pseudo scholars like D.M. Murdock, also known as “Acharya S.”  This has been fueled by internet propaganda films like “Zeitgeist” and “The God Who Wasn’t There.”As  ridiculous as it seems many undiscerning viewers have been deceived by it. Of legitimate scholars there have probably been few more damaging to Christian truth claims than the infamous Bart Ehrman. When you get testimony from a hostile witness it is powerful evidence for your side. Here is a clip form a interaction between Ehrman and “the Infidel Guy” a proponent of such “Jesus never existed” silliness. It’s quite amusing to hear Ehrman demonstrating the intellectual bankruptcy of the Jesus myth crowd.

Forged! Bart Erhman’s Disengenuous Allegations

In the first century, letters were written with a reed pen using ink made from soot, gum and water on to 9 1/2” x 11” papyrus sheets  which could hold around 150–250 words.[1] Since even Paul’s shortest letter, Philemon, contained 335 words, all of Paul’s letters joined the papyri sheets to form a scroll.  Because this was an expensive and labor intensive process, one could ill afford false starts. Due to this and the general lack of education, trained scribes called amanuenses were frequently employed for writing letters.[2] For example, from Romans 16:22 we learn that Tertius was Paul’s amanuensis. Similarly, Peter tells us in 1 Peter 5:12 that he used Silvanus as his secretary. It also appears to be standard operating procedure for the actual author to compose a final salutation in his own hand (2 Thess. 3:17; Gal. 6:11).

A crucial issue to New Testament scholarship is the degree of freedom an amanuensis had in vocabulary and style. It seems natural that the more trusted and familiar the relationship, the more editorial the role. According to Carson and Moo,

Many scholars think that the influence of various amanuenses may explain the differences in Greek style among the Pauline letters, rendering it difficult, if not impossible, to draw conclusions about authorship based on such criteria.[3]

This is a vital yet overlooked fact in modern authorship disputes. Still yet, even highly critical scholars must face this issue as a potential defeater to their arguments. A prime example being Bart Ehrman, who in his sensationalistic book Forged acknowledges, “Virtually all of the problems with what I’ve been calling forgeries can be solved if secretaries were heavily involved in the composition of the early Christian writings.”[4] It seems entirely feasible, if not likely, that they were.

Many modern scholars argue that some New Testament books might be pseudonymous. Pseudonymity refers to the practice when a writer purposefully attributes someone else’s name to a document. Pseudepigraphy refers to the documents which are believed to be falsely attributed.[5] Sometimes the author likely thought that by attaching a well-known name to a work, it had a better chance of being taken seriously. Other times there was indeed mal intent as in the case of the Acts of Pilate which blasphemously slandered the character of Jesus.[6] Other possible explanations which have been offered include students honoring a leader posthumously or even for reasons of personal safety in the face of unpopular polemics.[7] While some books are better evidenced than others, left wing sensationalists like Ehrman attach the pseudepigaphal label to more accepted New Testament books like Acts. The term “forged” usually refers to a counterfeit of something which already exists. In this case, its more marketable than “pseudonymous.” While scandalous titles like Forged or Misquoting Jesus generate sales, they present a disingenuous portrait of the New Testament. While scholars may argue, none of the New Testament books are proven to be pseudonymous. There are excellent defenses for traditional authorship of every book presented in the New Testament introductions by D.A Carson and Douglas Moo or Thomas D. Lea and David Alan Black referenced in this essay.

The church fathers that were responsible for selecting the cannon were particularly interested in authorship. For example Eusebius writes, “Paul’s fourteen epistles are well known and undisputed. It is not indeed right to overlook the fact that some have rejected the Epistle to the Hebrews saying that it is disputed by the Church of Rome, on the ground that it was not written by Paul.”[8] Of course, today Hebrews is considered anonymous as it is not officially attributed to any author. The book makes no claim. This distinction is paramount in that no deception is perpetrated. In contrast, the Epistle to the Laodiceans was ascribed to Paul but the Muratorian Canon refers to it as “forged in Paul’s name.”[9]

Furthermore, there were many works attributed to Peter such as the apocryphal Gospel of Peter. Eusebius also records the work of an early apologist Serapion who wrote, “For we, brethren, receive both Peter and the other apostles as Christ; but we reject intelligently the writings falsely ascribed to them, knowing that such were not handed down to us.”[10] Similarly, Tertullian rejected the book, The Acts of Paul, not only by its heretical content but due to its doubtful authorship.[11] In general, the books were thoroughly examined based on orthodoxy and authenticity of authorship.[12] It seems clear that the early church would never knowingly accept a forged book as canonical.

The onus is on those who uphold the idea that the writing of pseudonymous letters was an accepted practice among the early Christians to produce some evidence for their view. On the contrary, the evidence we have is that every time such a writing could be identified with any certainty, it was rejected. (Carson and Moo, 344)

The ethics of Jesus and the apostles were decidedly partial to integrity and transparency. It seems likely that those early Christians with serious concerns for truth and piety, being far more contemporaneous to the era of authorship, got it right. Modern scholars who want to revise history are not in such a position and have questionable motives. Erhman’s own confession that the use of amanuenses potentially overthrows all of his indictments consigns his own work Forged to a questionable genre.


[1]Thomas D. Lea and David Alan Black, The New Testament : Its Background and Message, 2nd ed. (Nashville, Tenn.: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2003), 335.

[2] Lea and Black, The New Testament, 334.

[3]D. A. Carson and Douglas J. Moo, An Introduction to the New Testament, Second Edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005) , 335.

[4]Bart D. Ehrman, Forged: Writing in the Name of God–Why the Bible’s Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are (New York: HarperOne, 2011), 134.

[5]Carson and Moo, An Introduction, 337.

[6] Carson and Moo, An Introduction, 338.

[7]Lea and Black, The New Testament, 338.

[8]Eusebius, Church History, 3.3.5.

[9]Peter Thomas O’Brien, The Letter to the Ephesians, The Pillar New Testament commentary (Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1999), 41.

[10]Eusebius, Church History, 6.12.3.

[11]Lea and Black, The New Testament, 340.

[12]Lea and Black, The New Testament, 341.

Chasing the Amber Witch

Bestsellers like “Misquoting Jesus” by Bart Erhman and “God is Not Great” by Christopher Hitchens are presented with all the fanfare of revolutionary new scholarship.  These antichristian polemics are hawked as “revealing the hidden contradictions of the Bible” and “how religion poisons everything” yet the issues expressed are neither concealed nor venomous. While sensational titles and viral marketing may reap revenues the vast majority of their contentions are the long discredited canards of 19th century German higher criticism being recycled to a new generation.

Erhman’s brand of criticism is derivative of German writer David Friedrich Strauss (1808 – 1874) who scandalized Europe with his interpretation of the “historical Jesus”. Strauss had been trained in Hegel’s dialectic philosophy (thesis + antithesis = synthesis) not only denied the deity of Christ, he asserted that the Gospels were “myths,” a synthesis between the facts of Jesus’ life (thesis) and the disciples’ faith (antithesis). Ehrman is basically following suit in the 21st century.

Like Erhman’s best sellers Strauss’ “The Life of Jesus, Critically Examined” was a sensation. One reviewer called it “the Iscariotism of our days” and another “the most pestilential book ever vomited out of the jaws of hell.”   When Strauss was elected to a chair of theology in the University of Zürich, his selection provoked such a hullabaloo that the school retired him before he began his duties. In contrast, today Erhman chairs the department of religious studies at the University of North Carolina deep in the Bible belt.

Liberal higher criticism treats the Bible as a flawed piece of religious propaganda created for various human motives. A major presupposition of higher critics is that they can confidently determine authorship and authenticity.  For instance, the scholars of the Jesus Seminar have determined that only twenty percent of what the Gospels attribute to Jesus was actually said by him[i].  Are they really that good?

A Dusty Old Manuscript

While digging around in the church basement, Johannes Wilhelm Meinhold (1797-1851)  claimed to have discovered the long lost manuscript of a 17th century minister, Abraham Schweidler. The manuscript spins an enticing yarn.  The Reverend almost loses his only child Maria to a plot by a unrequited suitor accusing her of witchcraft. Under the threat of torture Maria, entirely innocent, confesses to being a witch. While on the way to her doom, she is rescued at the last minute by a young hero who reveals the evil plot against her. Described as “the most interesting trial for witchcraft ever known”, church leaders had apparently urged Meinhold publish the story for its instructional value.[ii]

The Amber Witch is a Gothic novel written in 1839 by Meinhold. Because the old manuscript was incomplete, Meinhold allegedly supplied details in the style of author and finished the story for dramatic purposes.  In a direct challenge to the “modern documentary critics” Meinhold wrote in the preface to the novel:

I have therefore attempted, not indeed to supply what is missing at the beginning and end, but to restore those leaves which have been torn out of the middle, imitating, as accurately as I was able, the language and manner of the old biographer, in order that the difference between the original narrative and my own interpolations might not be too evident. This I have done with much trouble, and after many ineffectual attempts; but I refrain from pointing out the particular passages which I have supplied, so as not to disturb the historical interest of the greater part of my readers. For modern criticism, which has now attained to a degree of acuteness never before equalled, such a confession would be entirely superfluous, as critics will easily distinguish the passages where Pastor Schweidler speaks from those written by Pastor Meinhold.[iii]

The Critics Love It

When it first appeared the German critics believed it to have been an authentic historical document. The work then attracted critical notice, not only for the dramatic nature of the narrative, but also for the arguments as to which parts of it were original and which ones were Meinhold’s own reconstructions of the original 17th-century style. Sound familiar?

It was a hoax! Meinhold had indeed written the whole thing. The forgery was done with great skill and detail using the language and expressions that would be common to the period it is set in.  The author’s intention had been to set a deliberate “trap for the disciples of David Strauss and his school who pronounced the scriptures of the Old and New Testament to be a collection of legends from historical research assisted by internal evidence”. Even when he admitted that it was a deliberate hoax the critics argued against him for its authenticity!  It soon became obvious that The Amber Witch was a hoax. As the popular press reported in the late 1840s:

“Meinhold did not spare them [Strauss and his disciples] when they fell into his snare and made merry with the historical knowledge and critical acumen that could not detect the contemporary romancer under the mask of two centuries ago, while they decide so positively as to the authorities of the most ancient writings in the world.”[iv]

He made a brilliant example out of Strauss and his school of criticism. This begs the question:  if these critics could not accurately detect a very recent text, why should we trust atheist scholars’ opinions over those of the disciples and early church fathers? Perhaps when Jesus refers to one Isaiah as having written the book of Isaiah and Moses as the author of the Torah, we should simply take him at His word.  Can the Jesus Seminar or Bart Ehrman really determine what Jesus did and did not say?

Not at all, they are only chasing the Amber Witch.

[i]Wilkins, Michael J., and J P Moreland. Jesus Under Fire. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1995.p.12

[ii]Laurita, Paula. The Amber Witch Hoax. http://www.bellaonline.com/articles/art35746.asp (accessed 04 22, 2010).

[iii] Meinhold, W. The Amber Witch: The most Interesting Trial for Witchcraft Ever Known. London: H.G. Clarke and Co., 1844.

[iv] Agnew, John Holmes, and W H Bidwell, “The Author of the Amber Witch.” Eclectic Magazine: Foreign Literature Science ad Art Vol 21, September 1850: 419.