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Futuristic Interpretations of the Book of Revelation

My apologies for being “absent” from the blog for a few days. As I pointed out in my last posting, I’m in lovely Chantilly VA just now, doing a series of lectures for the Teaching Company. The schedule is a real killer and I have virtually no time on my hands. In any event, right before I came, my textbook on the Bible was finally completed and sent off to the publisher to be entered into production. As it turns out, one of the passages from the Intro coincides with one of the lectures I gave yesterday on the book of Revelation. For the undergraduate reader of the text, I try to show, as succinctly as I can, why Revelation is best not interpreted as referring to future events to transpire in our own day. Here’s what I say in the textbook. *************************************************************** One of the most popular ways to interpret the book of Revelation today is to read its symbolic visions as literal descriptions of what is going to transpire in our own day [...]

2020-04-03T18:45:00-04:00February 28th, 2013|Book Discussions, Revelation of John|

A Hiatus

This week I need to take a break from my current thread on the development of early Christology. It’s not because I’ve run out of things to say, although that will happen eventually. It’s because I’m completely tied up with something else this week that will be sucking up most of my time and virtually all of my energy. This week I’m recording a new course for the Teaching Company (now called The Great Courses). If you don’t know about the Great Courses, you should! It’s an amazing outfit. The provide courses on CD or DVD on an enormous number of academic subjects, from astronomy to philosophy to history to classics to music to physics to … well, to you name it. And they do a lot of courses in religion/religious studies. I buy courses myself to watch. Probably their bestselling professor is Robert Greenberg, a brilliant lecturer and master of all things musical. His course “How to Listen to and Appreciate Great Music” is absolutely fabulous – 48 lectures on the history of Western [...]

2013-02-26T03:05:31-05:00February 26th, 2013|Reader’s Questions|

What Kind of a Text is the King James Bible?

Introduction: On January 24, 2013, the traveling exhibition Manifold Greatness: The Creation and Afterlife of the King James Bible opened at the William H. Hannon Library at Loyola Marymount University. The keynote talk for the opening: "What Kind of a Text is the King James Bible? Manuscripts, Translation, and the Legacy of the KJV" was presented by Dr. Bart Ehrman, James A. Grey Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies at UNC Chapel Hill and New York Times bestselling author. In this lecture by Dr. Bart Ehrman, a leading authority on the New Testament and New York Times bestselling author, you will hear why the KJV has received such praise and adoration over the centuries, and then turn to consider aspects of the translation that also need to be considered when assessing its greatness and value:  the archaic language that at times can confuse modern readers; the inferior ancient manuscripts on which the translation was based; and the theological biases that occasionally led the translators to make the biblical text say something other than it originally meant. [...]

2017-12-31T23:42:48-05:00February 26th, 2013|New Testament Manuscripts, Public Forum, Video Media|

John’s Logos and Jewish Wisdom

In yesterday’s post I began to discuss the Prologue of the Gospel of John, which contains a poem that celebrates Christ as the Word of God that became human. This Word of God was with God in the beginning of all things, and was himself God; through him the universe was created and in him is life. This word took on flesh to dwell with humans, and that human – the divine word made flesh – was Jesus. Some readers over the years have wondered if this celebration of the Logos of God that becomes flesh owes more to Greek philosophy than to biblical Judaism. It’s a good question, and hard to answer. One thing that can be said is that this Logos idea does find very close parallels with other biblical texts – in particular with texts that speak of the Wisdom (Greek: Sophia) of God. Sophia and Logos are related ideas; both have to do in some respect with “reason.” Sophia is reason that is internal to a person; Logos is that reason [...]

The Christ-Poem in John

Arguably the best known and most influential passage dealing with Christology in the New Testament is the Prologue of the Gospel of John, 1:1-18. It is also probably the most studied and discussed passage – even more than the Christ poem in Philippians 2:6-11. The first eighteen verses of John are typically called the “Prologue” because they are clearly set apart from the rest of the Gospel as a kind of celebration of the main character of the book; these verses are written in a different writing style from the rest of the Gospel (lofty poetry), they contain key concepts not found in the rest of the Gospel (Christ as “the Word” made flesh), and yet they introduce well some of the most important views of the Gospel (the high view of Christ generally). And so it is widely thought that the author of the Fourth Gospel appended these verses as a Prologue, possibly after the rest of the book was written. It is widely thought, in fact, that the Gospel went through multiple editions, [...]

2020-04-03T18:47:39-04:00February 22nd, 2013|Book Discussions, Canonical Gospels, Early Christian Doctrine|

Final Thoughts on the Philippians Christ-Poem

There is a whole lot more that could be said about the Christ-poem in Philippians 2.   You could literally write an entire book on just this passage.  In fact, people *have* written books on just this passage.   The most important one, a classic in the field, is by Ralph Martin, A Hymn of Christ (which in earlier editions was called Carmen Christi) (which is a Latin phrase that, unsurprisingly, means A Hymn of Christ  :-) ).  This passage has had more ink spilled over it by scholars over the last century than almost any other in the entire Bible (with the exception of John 1:1-18).   In any event, to make sense of what I want to say here, it would help, if you haven’t done so, to read the other posts I’ve made on it. Here I just want to mention briefly an interpretation that is sometimes floated for the passage which takes it in a very different way indeed, as not being about incarnation at all.  In this alternative interpretation, the passage is not [...]

An Ancient Accusation of Textual Tampering

I will get back to my discussion of Christology soon (tomorrow?) but wanted to take a break and talk about something else that came up in my reading today.   I’m working diligently on finishing the research for my next book How Jesus Became God.  My goal is to finish all the research in about three weeks.   Unfortunately, I can’t be devoting my entire attention to the research just now because I have other things hanging fire.  I’m putting the final touches on The Other Gospels manuscript, which I hope to have finished this week; and next week I will be in Washington D.C. recording a 24-lecture course for the Teaching Company on “The Greatest Controversies in Early Christianity.”  That will take the entire week, and when I won’t be giving a lecture (six a day), I’ll be too exhausted and brain dead to think about much anything else.   But after that I have a few weeks to work, with only weekends away for giving lectures in various spots.  And I hope to start writing about [...]

More on the Philippians Christ-Poem

COMMENT: This ‘rhythmic structure’ just does not work in Greek. The first ‘stanza’ with three ‘lines’: Who, although he was in the form of God Did not regard equality with God Something to be grasped after; In Greek the ‘third line’ is only one word and it appears in the middle of the ‘second line’, after only the first word of the so-called second line. There are a few different views of the structure, but they all must be based on the Greek text.   RESPONSE AND FURTHER COMMENT: That’s exactly right – you make a good point. For my translation I arranged the poem in three stanzas of three lines each; but in Greek it’s different. But even there there are still three stanzas of three lines each, but because of the grammatical difference, it works differently. In Greek it’s like this for the first part of the poem:   FOR THE REST OF THIS POST, log in as a Member. Click here for membership options. If you don't belong yet, JOIN!!! ὃς [...]

The Pre-pauline “Poem” in Philippians 2

In my most recent post on Christology I began to speak about the “incarnation” Christology found famously in Paul’s letter to the Philippians, 2:6-11.  There are a lot of other things I want to say about this passage, all of them relevant to the issues I’ve been discussing.  The first and most important thing is that it has been widely recognized by scholars for a very long time that this passage is something that Paul appears to be quoting, that it is not simply part of the prose letter.  Moreover, it is frequently called (probably wrongly) a “hymn” (that’s probably wrong because – as I’ve been told by an expert in the field of ancient music, it doesn’t actually scan as music).   But in any event, it is highly structured in a balanced fashion and thus seems to be more like a poem than like prose.  The reasons for thinking that Paul is quoting rather than composing it are pretty compelling, and I will get to them eventually.  For now I want to point out [...]

Dead Sea Scrolls Scandal

A few years ago I was asked to give a speech at a museum in Raleigh NC in connection with an exhibit of the Dead Sea Scrolls that had been long in the works and had finally become a reality. I will be the first to admit, I'm not the first person you should think of to give a lecture on the Dead Sea Scrolls. It’s not my field of scholarship. But the lecture was to be one of a series of lectures, and the other lecturers actually were experts, including my colleague Jodi Magness, a world-class archaeologist who happens to teach in my department (well, she doesn’t “happen” to teach there; I hired her when I was chair of the department) and who has written the best popular discussion of the archaeology of Qumran, the place where the scrolls were found, and my colleague at cross-town rival Duke, Eric Meyers, another archaeologist famous for his work in ancient Israel. The organizers of the exhibit wanted me to give a talk because they wanted a [...]

A Brief Break from Christology

With this post I want to take a brief break from what I’ve been doing on the blog to assess how it’s going.   A couple of weeks ago now I decided to start posting on my current book project, How Jesus Became God.   My idea was that this would allow me to “think through” some issues out loud, as it were, as I put thoughts on screen, and it would allow people on the blog to see where I’m going with the book.   And so I’ve posted about a dozen or so posts on the topic, virtually without stop (well, there have one or two other things).  On the whole I would characterize these posts as relatively heavy-hitting as far as posts go: I’ve been trying to write for the blog members, (you!), who as a rule are not scholars but are highly intelligent lay people who may not have all the jargon and background of professional biblical folk, but who are interested in topics related to NT and early Christianity, and don’t mind seeing [...]

2013-02-15T22:47:43-05:00February 15th, 2013|Public Forum|

Incarnation Christology, Angels, and Paul

In my posts on Christology so far I have argued that different Christians in the early decades of the Christian movement maintained that Jesus had been exalted to a divine status at some point of his existence – at his resurrection, at his baptism, at his birth. I have called this a christology from below, or an “exaltation” christology; it is sometimes called a low christology because it understands Jesus to have started out as a human (down here with us) and to have been raised to a divine status. In this view he was not God from eternity past or a pre-existent being. He was a human being who was taken up to the level of divinity at some point (or, in the case of the Virgin Birth, that he came into existence at a point in time as a person who was partially human partially divine). But there was another kind of Christology which was also very early – earlier, in fact, than our earliest surviving Christian writer, Paul. This is the view [...]

An Important and Relevant Textual Variant in Luke 2

I’d like to address the issue of early Christology from a slightly different angle in this post. So far I have talked about how an “exaltation” Christology, in which Jesus, the man, is made the Son of God at some point of his existence can be found in various parts of the New Testament (Rom 1:3-4; speeches in Acts), and how different early Christians located that exaltation to different moments in Jesus’ existence (resurrection, baptism, birth, pre-existence). As it turns out, this view of Christology relates to an important textual variant in the Gospel of Luke. So, by way of background for anyone new to this kind of discussion. We don’t have the original copy of Luke’s Gospel (or of any other NT book) (or, actually, of any book at all from the ancient world!). What we have are copies made from copies made from copies that were made from copies. We have thousands of copies of the NT from the centuries before the invention of printing. And these thousands of copies have hundreds of [...]

Pushing Back the Exaltation

It has taken me a while to get to this stage with respect to my discussion of exaltation Christologies. At first I thought that the point I’m going to make in this current post would be my very first post – and then I realized I needed to provide background, and then background for the background, and then background for the background for the background and so on. So it’s been a number of posts. And to make sense of this one, you really need to read the others. Sorry ‘bout that, but these things ain’t easy….. My contention is a fairly non-controversial one among critical scholars of the New Testament and early Christianity. When the disciples came to believe in the resurrection, they thought that God had exalted Jesus to a unique, divine status. This is the oldest Christology there was. It is attested in such places as the pre-Pauline fragment in Rom. 1:3-4 and in several places, pre-Lukan, incorporated in the speeches of Acts. FOR THE REST OF THIS POST, log in as [...]

Exaltation Christology in the Speeches in Acts

In this post I return to the topic of early Christology. To review what I’ve covered so far: I have indicated that early on in the Christian tradition there were two types of Christology, one of which I have called “exaltation” Christology (I have not mentioned yet the other type); this is sometimes called a “low” Christology or a Christology from below. This is the view that Jesus started out as a human, nothing more, but came to be exalted by God to become his Son, the Lord. This view, I have argued, can be found in fragments of creeds and confessions that were later quoted by authors of the New Testament, so that in terms of raw chronology, they were formulated well *before* the New Testament was written. And I isolated Romans 1:3-4 as just one such case, where Paul quotes a confession that indicates that whereas Jesus was the human messiah from David’s seed, he became the “son of God in power” at the resurrection. This is not exactly Paul’s own view, but [...]

2020-04-17T13:36:34-04:00February 11th, 2013|Acts of the Apostles, Early Christian Doctrine|

Gospel of the Savior

I’ve decided today to take a brief break from my discussions of early Christology to post on something else (tomorrow I’m back to Christology, if all goes according to plan).   As I think I have mentioned, my colleague Zlatko Plese and I are in the process of publishing an English-only version of our book The Apocryphal Gospels: Texts and Translations.  That is, we are not including the Greek, Latin, and Coptic texts, but only the English translations.   I have adjusted the Introductions for a lay-audience.   We are adding a couple of texts that we did not include in the quadri-lingual edition, most notably “The Gospel of the Savior.”   This text is not well known outside the ranks of scholars of the early Christian apocrypha, and so I thought I would mention it here.  The following, in fact, is a draft of my Introduction (which will include bibliography as well): ***************************************************************************** The Gospel of the Savior is one of the most recent Gospels to become available to public view, having been first announced in the mid [...]

Exaltation Christology in an Early Creed

So far in this series of posts dealing with How Jesus Became God, I have maintained that in the very early years of Christianity, soon after the disciples came to believe in the resurrection, there were two forms of Christology that emerged. And I have discussed only one of these two forms, one that considered Jesus to be a full flesh and blood human being(as he considered himself!), and nothing more than a man, until at some point God exalted him and made him his son, the ruler of all, the messiah, the Lord. I am calling this kind of “low” Christology (low because it stresses that Jesus started out as a human and not divine) a Christology “from below” or an “exaltation” Christology. I have also argued that this kind of Christology can be found in some of the earliest materials in the New Testament, that in fact it is imbedded in quotations of earlier pre-literary sources found in various writings of the NT. In my previous post I talked about how scholars have [...]

Exaltation Christology: Some Background

Yesterday I posted the first in what will be a series of reflections on the earliest Christian Christologies (understandings of Christ), a in this post I would like to provide some necessary background information that will allow that post to make even better sense. In that post I began to outline what I take to be the earliest Christology of all. Jesus and his followers, I maintained, saw him(self) as a man and nothing more than a man (who was a great teacher, a prophet, and the future messiah of the coming kingdom – but human through and through, nothing else). But once these followers came to believe that he had been raised from the dead, they altered their view to begin to think that God had exalted him to heaven and made him his specially anointed one, his Son, who would indeed be the future messiah and who would bring in that Kingdom himself when he returned from heaven as the Son of Man. And so, why do I think that this Christological view [...]

The Earliest Christology

When I earlier said that I thought my older view of the development of Christology was problematic, in that I had been imagining a more or less straight line of development from low to high Christology, I did not mean to say (as I may have mistakenly been understood as saying) that I have now given up the idea of a line of development.  What I’ve given up on is the idea that there was basically ONE form of Christology that developed from low to high.  I now think that all Christologies ultimately go back to TWO different forms, that originated separately from each other, with one being earlier than the other, and both developing separately from each other, until they were finally fused together. I realize I’m more or less giving away my book at this point, but I’ll just sketch out the basic idea and leave its full exposition for the print version. Here I’ll say something about the oldest Christology, as I understand it.  This was what I earlier called a “low” [...]

2020-04-03T18:49:26-04:00February 6th, 2013|Book Discussions, Early Christian Doctrine, Historical Jesus|

How Jesus Became God: More Questions

In yesterday’s post I began to explain some of the problems that I had started to have with my original way of imagining this book, How Jesus Became God  (I give the original prospectus in the three posts preceding that one).  The problem I mentioned yesterday was a big one: I came to think that the proposal did not take into account fully enough the variety of Christological expressions that one finds at the same time in early Christianity, but seemed to assume that there was some kind of straight line, linear progression from a low Christology to a high one. To some extent I still think that there was a progression.  It is clear, at any rate, that the Christology embraced at the Council of Nicea was MUCH “higher” than the one found in the Gospel of Mark.   You’d have to be blind not to see the difference.  But something has to account for the fact that in our earliest source – Paul – we appear to get some kind of high Christology already, [...]

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