The Historian does not Presuppose that God Exists or that God does not Exist




New Testament scholar and agnostic, Bart Ehrman, comments on the book, “How God became Jesus”, written by a group of evangelical Christian scholars, who wrote their book in response to Ehrman’s book, “How Jesus became God”:

(March 2014)

“The historian does not presuppose either that God exists or that God does not exist.  God is not affirmed or denied.  God is not part of the equation.  History proceeds by showing what probably happened in the past.  If people want to say that God was involved with the past, that’s a religious or theological statement, not a historical one.  That’s why you will NEVER, EVER read a competent and established historian of WWII or of the establishment of the colonies in the new world or of Russian imperial history invoke God to explain what happened.  Historians just don’t do that, ever.  Why?  Because even if God does exist and even if God has determined the course of history, there’s no way to argue that without making certain theological assumptions (e.g., that God exists!).   Let me stress: to do history does NOT (I cannot emphasize this enough: it does NOT) require anyone to adopt secular anti-supernaturalist biases.   But to do history means that you *do* adopt historical premises rather than theological ones, whatever your personal beliefs happen to be.

…My view is that historians cannot require certain theological beliefs in doing their work.   Let me put it like this.   Would Christians, who are historians, have been able to write my book and will they be able to agree with it?   Yes, of course.   I had four friends read the book and they made copious comments on it for me.  All four are Christians.   So then ask the other question.   Would non-Christians have been able to write this response book (How God Became Jesus) and will they be able to agree with it?  OF COURSE NOT.  Non Christians cannot agree that God became Jesus.   But *that* means that to accept the premises of the response book, one needs to adopt certain theological views.  That’s absolutely fine!  But everyone needs to recognize that this means that the book is not strictly historical, but is theological.  It contains responses produced by evangelical Christians who want to promote their religious perspectives.   AOK, fine!  What is *not* absolutely fine is claiming that in making this kind of response they are doing history rather than theology.”

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