The bible, theology scholar Bart D. Ehrman writes in his new book "Jesus, Interrupted," is offered as a sacred text in U.S. churches—not as a historical document. But who wrote its 27 books? When were they written? What were its authors trying to do? Pastors and congregants may wish to avoid the crises of faith that these questions provoke, but Ehrman says asking them is the only way to understand the Bible.
The Idea: The Bible is full of paradoxes. To make sense of it, you need to know who wrote it (men, not God) and why its stories—particularly the Gospels—contradict each other.
The Evidence: Jesus dies on different days in Mark and John. Luke says Jesus, en route to the cross, is calm; Mark says he is distraught. John says he performed miracles to prove his provenance; Matthew says he demurred. Most of the 27 books were written long after Christ's death, and only eight of them were actually written by the people initially credited as authors. When the New Testament became canonical, there were lots of Gospels floating around. Why did some endure but not others? Unclear, Ehrman writes, but it surely reflected contemporary biases. The Bible "did not descend from on high," he writes. "It was created, down here on earth."
The Conclusion: Ehrman argues that these subtleties don't squash the possibility of faith. Belief isn't just about doctrine; it can also tell us how to live and love.