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How Jesus Became God: The *Original* Idea

Several people have asked about the book I’m working on this term, How Jesus Became God, in particular in relation to what I mentioned in yesterday’s post, how I’ve learned a lot doing my research and changed my views on important issues related to the  book.  Explaining all that is a bit complicated, and I thought one good way to do it would be to show what I had *originally* planned to do with this book when I first proposed it to a publisher maybe seven or eight years ago, and then explain how the book now will be different, both in the way I’ll set it up and in what I think now about the topic. So for this post and the next two I will reproduce my original book proposal.  REALIZE, please, that this is what I was ORIGINALLY planning.  In lots of ways it still makes sense, but I’ve changed it now, and to make sense of the changes, you have to see what the original looked like.  So here’s part 1 [...]

2020-04-03T19:01:09-04:00January 31st, 2013|Book Discussions, Early Christian Doctrine|

During my Leave…

I have received several responses to my post yesterday about my being on leave; most of them can be summed up in two questions: What am I doing during my leave (besides spending my days watching soaps and eating bon-bons)? And will I keep my blog going after I’m done with the leave and return to teaching? I’ll answer the second question first. Yes, my plan is to keep the blog going. I started it while I was teaching last Spring (though it was a the tail end of the term; but the planning had been going on for months), and I intend to keep it up once I’m back in the classroom in the Fall. I won’t lie: it’s a lot of work. Posting an average of six times a week is a bit hard sometimes. But I’m blessed with the ability to write fast, and doing this blog has made me even faster! I have to budget at least 45 minutes a day to focus on the blog (not to mention the time [...]

Being on Leave

As I may have mentioned on the blog already, I am on academic leave this entire year. Most places call that a sabbatical, but in North Carolina sabbatical is a four-letter word. The idea here is that since we are state-employees and, well, other state-employees don’t get time off from their day job to do their research – so why should professors? Interesting point. But of course for professors at research universities, it is all about the research. When I was in my PhD program, my plan was to teach in a Christian seminary or divinity school, hopefully one like Princeton Theological Seminary, where in addition to training future ministers, faculty have a chance to train PhD students – who will themselves go out to teach and train future ministers. I got into the Bible business as a seventeen-year old eager to learn all I could about the Bible since I believed it was the word of God (more about that, possibly, in a future post); I eventually changed my views about the Bible (as, [...]

2020-04-03T19:01:24-04:00January 29th, 2013|Bart’s Biography, Reflections and Ruminations|

Posts by Outsiders

Now that we’ve seen a couple of posts by Jeff Siker (the author of Jesus, Sin, and Perfection in Early Christianity and Homosexuality in the Church) – taking a position quite different from my own on a question of broad importance – and some of the comments that have come back on it, and his reply at length to one of them, I think we are in a position to sit back and see how that “worked” for the blog.   My sense is that it worked very well.  If you think otherwise, please let me know. I do not want to do this sort of thing every week – but I’m thinking once every three or four weeks might be interesting.   I have received several suggestions for the kinds of things people would like to see, as follows: A Hebrew Bible scholar talking about the historical problems with the Hebrew Bible comparable to those we deal with on this blog for the New Testament; An archaeologist to discuss the evidence that Nazareth really did exist; [...]

2020-04-24T13:00:08-04:00January 28th, 2013|Public Forum|

From Jeff Siker: A Response to Comments

Jeff Siker’s posts have elicited some very interesting responses. I don’t think he can reply to everything, but I did ask him to take one of the questions and give it his best shot. So, see here below. After this one I’ll ask him just to respond to comments in the comment section of the blog (rather than as separate posts) as/if he sees fit. Tomorrow you’re stuck back with me again…. Jeff Siker is the author of Jesus, Sin, and Perfection in Early Christianity, Liquid Scripture: The Bible in the Digital World and Homosexuality and Religion: An Encyclopedia. ****************************************************************************************************** QUESTION: Dr.Siker: Thanks so much. I certainly understand your remarkable description about how coming from a moderate background, rather than a fundamentalist background, may lead one to feel less betrayed and angry about what one was taught after one is jolted by studying the historical-critical approach to the Bible, but it still does not quite sort out for me. Maybe, this would help. How exactly would you explain your theology and how you got there [...]

2020-04-25T12:28:19-04:00January 27th, 2013|Reader’s Questions|

Jeff Siker Part 2: Why I am a Christian (and yet a New Testament scholar)

This is a part 2-continuation of Jeff Siker’s reflections on why he is a Christian still, even though he knows and believes what I do about the New Testament from a historical perspective. To make fullest sense of this post, you should read it in conjunction with the one from yesterday. He and I will welcome comments and interactions. Jeff Siker is the author of Jesus, Sin, and Perfection in Early Christianity, Liquid Scripture: The Bible in the Digital World and Homosexuality and Religion: An Encyclopedia. ****************************************************************************************************************** Like Bart I became interested in pursuing an academic career, but with some grounding in the life of the church.  And so after my BA and MA (Religious Studies) at Indiana University, I went off to Yale Divinity School.  And so my trajectory from Young Life in high school to Indiana to Yale was rather different from Bart’s trajectory from Moody to Wheaton to Princeton.  Whereas much of Bart’s education involved the study and practice of Christian apologetics (being able to defend one’s faith and challenge others – [...]

2020-04-25T12:25:42-04:00January 25th, 2013|Reflections and Ruminations|

Guest Post: Jeff Siker — Why I Am Still a Christian (and a NT Scholar)

I mentioned yesterday that I would have a guest post to the blog; this is Jeffrey Siker, an ordained Presbyterian minister and New Testament scholar. Jeff is senior professor of New Testament at Loyola Marymount University. He and I have been friends for over thirty years; he was two years behind me in my PhD program at Princeton Theological Seminary.  I have asked him to explain why he is still a Christian, even though he knows and agrees with most of what I think, from a historical perspective, about the New Testament. I have cut his answer into two parts to make them fit the format of the blog. Part 2, where he gets most directly to the question, will be in tomorrow’s post. He, and I, welcome any feedback (which, of course, can be more informed after tomorrow’s post). The following are his words. - Jeffrey Siker is the author of Jesus, Sin, and Perfection in Early Christianity and Homosexuality in the Church.   ****************************** When I first went to Princeton Theological Seminary to [...]

2022-04-04T13:48:15-04:00January 24th, 2013|Reflections and Ruminations|

Something New on the Blog

I have received a number of suggestions about how to improve this blog, and so far the one I like best is for me to have an occasional guest make a contribution that people could interact with -- that is, someone who is, like me, a scholar of NT or early Christianity who has a different thing or two to say.  I think it's a great idea.   And I'm going to implement it for the first time tomorrow. Here is a question I have recently been asked: You've mention that most of your past/present fellow colleagues, friends, loved ones etc... agree with you when it comes to historical understanding of the bible and Christianity, but remain believers. I also understand the problem of suffering was the real reason for your loss of faith and not completely historical understanding. I guess my question is this: What keeps them believing in the very human invention of Christianity? Is it because they have a very liberal understanding and are more like Crossan and Borg, reinventing Christianity to make [...]

2020-04-24T12:35:38-04:00January 24th, 2013|Public Forum|

Why Jesus?

This will be my last post for a while dealing with the question of whether Jesus’ ethics can be translated from his own mythological context of Jewish apocalyptic thought into the modern world that is based (for me at least) on a completely different view of life, meaning, and reality.  In my last post I indicated that I thought that it was indeed possible to make this kind of translation if one wants to.  But I ended by asking why one – or rather I – would want to.   That is, why focus on Jesus in particular? I don’t think I want to do so because I think that Jesus is “the greatest ethical teacher of all time.”  I have no idea if this is even a contest that can be won, and even if it is, I am not qualified to evaluate Jesus in relation to other great ethical teachers so as to declare him a winner.  So that seems to me to be a dead end. So why Jesus? I don’t have a [...]

Answer to My Objections on Demythologizing

If the first few paragraphs seem a bit tough-going or uninteresting, just jump to the final two! In my last couple of posts I’ve raised some problems with the idea of demythologizing an ancient set of ethical views, such as those of Jesus. The gist of the problem that I’ve raised is that every ethical injunction – just as every teaching, doctrine, piece of advice, sentence, word, communication of any kind – is not just *framed* within a linguistic, cultural, social, historical context: the context is actually determinative of the meaning of a word, sentence, etc. And if that’s true, then ripping a communication out of its context means necessarily to alter – once could say to destroy – its meaning. That at least has been my objection. And now I have a response to that objection from the other side. It is a two-pronged response. Prong One: I don’t think that it’s fair to say that context is absolutely *everything*. Context is a *lot*, but a communication consists of a sequence of sensible utterances [...]

2020-04-03T19:01:56-04:00January 21st, 2013|Reflections and Ruminations|

More Problems with Demythologizing

In yesterday’s post I questioned whether words, sentences, ideas, teachings can simply be transferred from one context to another, if, in fact, it is precisely the context that is the determining factor for what the words mean. Here I’ll try to illustrate that “if.” My argument here is that words do not have some kind of inherent meaning but mean what they do depending on their social, historical, cultural, and literary context. I think this can be illustrated just on the level of words themselves, in fact, of any word itself. I’ll illustrate with the example that I give to my undergraduate students at Chapel Hill. Take the word “dude.” Like all words, you might think that this word simply *means* something (it must mean *some* thing! No?), even if the meaning gets adopted in different contexts. Right? Well, I’m not so sure it’s right. Dude in its early usage referred to a dandy – that is a city dweller who was cultured and dressed to the nines and went to the opera, and so [...]

2020-04-03T19:02:05-04:00January 20th, 2013|Reflections and Ruminations|

Against Demythologizing the Ethics of Jesus

When I was in high school one of my passions – along with baseball, tennis, and, well, lots of other things that 16 year old boys can be passionate about  – was debate.   I threw myself into the debate season and worked like crazy at it.   One of the most interesting things about debate is that it teaches you to pursue both sides of a point, vehemently arguing the affirmative of a resolution and then an hour later arguing just as vehemently the negative side. Still today I use class debates in my university courses at UNC, and even though students are skeptical, reluctant, and afraid going into the debates, they almost always come away thinking that it they are the best part of the entire semester.  Everyone in the class has to participate in one formal debate during the term, arguing affirmative of negative of one of three highly controversial topics, based on doing substantial research with teammates in preparation.   The topics that I’ve used most recently are (1) Resolved: Paul and Jesus Represented [...]

2020-04-03T19:02:11-04:00January 19th, 2013|Reflections and Ruminations|

In Favor of Demythologizing the Ethics of Jesus

In previous posts, in answer to the question of whether I think that Jesus was a great moral teacher, I have said that I think the answer is Yes, but that there is a very serious caveat. Jesus’ ethical teaching is based on a view of the world that most of us today no longer hold. Jesus’ ethical teaching – just as all of his teaching – is deeply rooted in a form of Jewish apocalyptic thought that can be dated and localized to his time and place. Jesus thought that the culmination of the history of God’s people, Israel, was soon to come, that the climax of all human history was at hand, that God was soon to intervene in the course of history to overthrow the powers of evil that were in control of this world to bring in his good kingdom, here on earth. People were to live ethically in order to inherit that kingdom; and in fact, they were to begin to model the ethics of that kingdom in the here [...]

2020-04-03T19:02:18-04:00January 18th, 2013|Reflections and Ruminations|

Liar Lunatic or Lord…..Is Jesus a Moral Teacher?

Liar Lunatic or Lord... QUESTION: Do you think Jesus was a great moral teacher? If you think this is the case would you mind blogging about it? Fundamentalist are using C.S Lewis approach in this matter. Apparently they are happier if people call Jesus a lunatic vs. a great moral teacher. C.S. Lewis was the author of The Chronicles of Narnia, Mere Christianity, and The Problem of Pain. Is Jesus a Liar Lunatic or Lord? My Response In my last post I indicated what I think about Jesus as a great moral teacher: yes he was one, but completely and irretrievably in an apocalyptic context that we no longer share with him. In a future post I may deal with the question of whether it is possible to transplant ethical teachings of one context into a completely different one, without remainder. In this post I want to take up the question about C.S. Lewis. Lewis was a great scholar of 17th century English and obviously a popular author of children’s books and Christian apologetics. He [...]

2022-05-02T17:00:42-04:00January 17th, 2013|Historical Jesus, Reader’s Questions|

Was Jesus a Great Moral Teacher?

QUESTION: Do you think Jesus was a great moral teacher? If you think this is the case would you mind blogging about it. Fundamentalist are using C.S Lewis approach in this matter. Apparently they are happier if people call Jesus a lunatic vs. a great moral teacher. C.S. Lewis was the author of The Chronicles of Narnia, Mere Christianity, and The Problem of Pain.   RESPONSE: I think this question is going to require at least a couple of posts: one on Jesus as a moral teacher and one on the claim by C. S. Lewis and others that if it’s true that he was a great moral teacher then we cannot very well think he would flat-out lie about the most important aspect of his teaching: his personal identity as God. (That latter is what lay behind the end of the question.) So first, Jesus as moral teacher. As it turns out, this is a complicated question. The short answer, of course, is that Yes, Jesus was a great moral teacher. The complicating factor [...]

2020-04-06T13:32:00-04:00January 16th, 2013|Historical Jesus, Reader’s Questions|

My Problem with Fundamentalism

QUESTION: You note that fundamentalism is dangerous and harmful. How do you define fundamentalism and why do you think it’s dangerous?   RESPONSE: There are of course actual definitions of “fundamentalism” that you can find in scholarship on religion, but I sense that you’re asking more for a rough-and-ready description. Years ago I started defining fundamentalism as “No fun, too much damn, and not enough mental. When I was a fundamentalist myself (yet to be described) I understood it in a positive way. Originally, in Christian circles, it referred to believers who held on to the “fundamentals” of the faith, which for us included such things as the inspiration of Scripture, the full deity of Christ, the Trinity, the virgin birth, the physical resurrection, and, well, probably a collection of other doctrines. Fundamentalism, for us, was to be differentiated from liberalism, which had sacrificed these basic fundamental doctrines to the gods of modernity. And we would have nothing of it.   FOR THE REST OF THIS POST, log in as a Member. Click here for [...]

2020-04-03T19:02:43-04:00January 15th, 2013|Reader’s Questions, Reflections and Ruminations|

Textual Problems with the King James: The Trinity

I’ve mentioned several problems with the King James Version in previous posts.  Arguably the most significant set of problems has to do with the text that the translators were translating.   Here I’ll stick with what I know the most about, the text of the New Testament.   The brief reality is that in the early 17th century, Greek editions of the New Testament were based on very few and highly inferior manuscripts.   Only after the King James was translated did scholars begin to become aware of the existence of older, and far better, manuscripts.  For those of you who have read Misquoting Jesus, much of what follows will be a brief review. Before the invention of printing, the NT (and all other books) circulated in manuscript form (the word manu-script literally means “written by hand”), as scribes copied the text by hand, one page, one sentence, one word at a time.   All scribes copying long texts made mistakes; and anyone who copied a manuscript that had mistakes replicated the mistakes and made some of his own, [...]

2020-04-03T19:02:51-04:00January 14th, 2013|New Testament Manuscripts|

Heaven and Hell, When was Heaven and Hell Invented?

Heaven and Hell: When was Heaven and Hell Invented? (QUESTION): If I were to ask the average mainstream Sunday morning Christian why they are a Christian I would probably get an answer (other than to meet friends in church) such as this, “To be saved and go to heaven when I die.” When I look at the obituaries in the newspaper, I so often see a statement assuring me that “Mable is with Jesus now,” and was advised by a bumper sticker yesterday, “Heaven or Hell: It’s Your Choice.” If Jesus’ message was as you and others state, “repent now for the Kingdom of God is just around the corner,” affirmed by Paul and the early church...how did we get this fast-track-ticket-to-heaven in contemporary popular Christianity? I cannot find that explicitly in the New Testament (except for some hints in the Gospel of John). How did we get from the Apocalyptic Jesus to the Pearly Gates? RESPONSE: Ah, this is a great question, and as with all great questions, it does not have an easy answer!   [...]

More King James Curiosities

A terrific and detailed discussion of some of the problems of the King James as a modern translation can be found in Jack Lewis’s helpful ,The English Bible: from KJV to NIV.    Among some of the more interesting points he makes are the following. Words used in the KJV that we have no clue about today (well, most of us):  almug, algum, chode gat, habergeon, hosen, kab, lugure, neesed, ring-straked, wimples, ouches, cracknels…. He lists dozens more. Phrases: ouches of gold (Exoc. 28:11); collops of fat (Job 15:25); naughty figs (Jer 24:2); lien with (Jer. 3:2); rentest thy face (Jer. 4:30); murrain of the cattle (Exod. 9:2).  He gives lots more. Sentences that may, at least, puzzle: And Jacob sod pottage (Gen 25:29) And Mt. Sinai was altogether on a smoke (Exoc. 19:18) Thou shalt destroy them that speak leasing (Ps. 5:6) Solomon loved many strange women (2 Kings 11:1)  (!) I trow not (Luke 17:9) We do you to wit of the grace of God (2 Cor. 8:1) Ye are not straitened in us, [...]

2020-04-03T19:03:07-04:00January 12th, 2013|New Testament Manuscripts|

The King James and William Tyndale

Many, possibly most, people don’t realize that the King James Version was not the first translation of the Hebrew Old Testament and the Greek New Testament into English. There were seven major translations published earlier, and all of them to a greater or lesser extent (almost always greater) were dependent on the one(s) that came before them. The first, greatest, and most influential was the translation by William Tyndale. It was also the riskiest. It cost Tyndale his life. In 1408 a law had been passed in England making it illegal to translate or to read the Bible in English without official ecclesiastical approval; this was in response to the translation activities connected with (pre-Reformer) John Wycliffe and his followers, whose English rendering was not from the original Hebrew and Greek, but from the Latin vulgate. By the time of Tyndale in the early 16th century, it was possible to learn Greek at Oxford, and just possible to pick up Hebrew, and he did so. Tyndale was refused permission to publish a translation in England, [...]

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