In a book titled Jesus, Interrupted, one of the world’s most famous Bible critics cites one of his favorite Bible contradictions. In John 13:36, Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, where are you going?” A few verses later, Thomas said, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going” (14:5). And then, a few minutes later, at the same meal, Jesus upbraided His disciples, saying, “Now I am going to him who sent me, yet none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’” (16:5). That leaves only two possibilities, according to author Bart Ehrman: “Either Jesus had a very short attention span or there is something strange going on with the sources for these chapters.”
First, it is instructive to note that were I to take the professor in the woodenly literal sense that he takes the Bible, I would be doing him a grave injustice. It would be less than fair to suppose that he really thinks it possible that “Jesus had a very short attention span.” Anyone who reads Ehrman’s materials in context knows full well that he is convinced that John—whom he characterizes as a “lower-class, illiterate, Aramaic-speaking peasant”—did not write the gospel attributed to him and that the sources that were cobbled together to create the text are decidedly unreliable.
Furthermore, we must be careful not to fall for historical revisionists who, like Ehrman, attempt to persuade the gullible that John was illiterate and therefore could not have written the fourth gospel. John may have been “unlettered” in the sense that he was not educated beyond the primary schooling avail- able to boys at that time, but he was clearly not illiterate. Not only is it an uncharitable stretch to demean John for his lack of a formal education, but this characterization neglects the reality that John continually “astonished” the Jewish teachers of the Law with his knowledge and wisdom (Acts 4:13) in much the same way as Jesus Himself had—though he, too, was without the requisite rabbinic training demanded by Ehrman.
Finally, allow me to underscore what is painfully obvious to anyone who engages Bart’s so-called “problems with the Bible.” Ehrmanites, it seems, are wholly incapable of comprehend-ing the subtlety of sophisticated literary nuances. Peter and Thomas obviously uttered the words, “Where are you going?” with decidedly different drifts. As the venerable New Testament scholar R. C. H. Lenski has well said, “Peter’s question in 13:36 was . . . only a selfish exclamation which would not hear of Jesus’ going away alone. And the assertion of Thomas in 14:5 was nothing but an expression of discouragement and dullness of mind. So here Jesus is leaving, his going to his Sender means so much to the disciples, and yet none of them requests one word of this precious information.” Put another way, while the disciples focused on mean earthly vanities, Christ intended to elevate their gaze to eternal verities.
Did Jesus have a painfully short attention span? Or are Ehrmanites lost in a literalist labyrinth of their own making? You be the judge.
Now we are sure that You know all things, and have no need that anyone should question You. By this we believe that You came forth from God.
John 16:30 NKJV
For further study, see Hank Hanegraaff Has God Spoken? Memorable Proofs of the Bible’s Divine Inspiration (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2011).
***Note the preceding text is adapted from a new Revised and Updated version of The Complete Bible Answer Book that is forthcoming in Fall 2023. When available for pre-order we will update this page with corresponding information. Until then you can still purchase or receive for your partnering gift the current version by clicking here for purchase or here for partnering gift. ***