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Losing Religion in America

As many of you know, there was a major poll done recently by the Pew Research Center involving religion in America.  The results were published about three weeks ago, and the findings were striking indeed.   Among the most intriguing were that the percentage of people identifying themselves as Christian in the U.S. has declined by nearly 8% in just seven years.  That corresponds to those who consider themselves not “religiously affiliated” in any way, which, for the purposes of this poll, meant they were atheist, agnostic, or basically no religion at all.  This category is up nearly 7%.   Here are the findings in the salient paragraph, drawn from the full account at The major new survey of more than 35,000 Americans by the Pew Research Center finds that the percentage of adults (ages 18 and older) who describe themselves as Christians has dropped by nearly eight percentage points in just seven years, from 78.4% in an equally massive Pew Research survey in 2007 to 70.6% in 2014. Over the same period, the percentage of [...]

2017-11-29T21:45:19-05:00May 30th, 2015|Reflections and Ruminations, Religion in the News|

The Nature of John’s Signs Source

I have given one of the major pieces of evidence that there was a Signs Source that was used by the author of the Gospel of John, a written document that enumerated seven miraculous deeds of Jesus that were designed to show that he was a divine being, the Son of God.   There is another piece of evidence.  It is the concluding comment of chapter 20 of the Gospel, which I have already quoted a couple of times: “Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, but these are written so that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you might have life in his name.” (20:30-31) The reason this verse seems to suggest the existence of a signs source is that it doesn’t really make very much sense where it now occurs, at the end of the stories of Jesus’ resurrection (Note: as I’ve indicated before, scholars frequently think that chapter 21 of John was tacked on later, in a second edition; [...]

2020-04-03T13:37:43-04:00May 28th, 2015|Canonical Gospels|

Some Evidence for a Signs Source in John

I started this mini-thread by mentioning one of the now-lost documents of early Christianity that I would love to have discovered, the alleged “Signs Source” of the Gospel of John.  Before giving the evidence that there may have been some such source, I went off on a tangent, in order to show that John has a different view of Jesus’ spectacular deeds from what you find in Matthew, Mark, and Luke.   In these earlier Gospels, Jesus does “miracles,” both because he feels compassion for those in need and in order to illustrate his teaching that the Kingdom of God was soon to appear.  In John, however, he does “signs” to prove that he really is a divine being. So, what evidence is there that John’s accounts of Jesus’ signs derive from a previously existing, but no longer surviving, written source?   The evidence does not make a slam-dunk case, and so the matter is debated among scholars.  I’ve long thought, though, that there probably was some such source. First, some basic factual information.  These are the [...]

2020-04-03T13:37:51-04:00May 27th, 2015|Canonical Gospels|

Why Jesus Does Miracles

I seem to be taking a very circuitous route (as you may have noticed) to the question of why we might think that the author of the Gospel of John had access to a written source that gave him his information about the “signs” that Jesus did during his public ministry.   To get to that point, I have been discussing how John’s view of Jesus’ spectacular deeds differed significantly from the view of the Synoptics.  I have stressed that whereas in John Jesus does signs in order to prove that he is the Son of God so that people would come to believe in him, in the Synoptics Jesus refuses to do signs in order to prove his divine identity. But why then does he do miracles in the Synoptics?   I suppose the common answer is probably right: he does miracles out of compassion for those who are suffering.   But there is more to it than that.   The miracles in the Synoptics do demonstrate that what Jesus says is true.  But in these Gospels what [...]

2020-04-03T13:38:45-04:00May 26th, 2015|Canonical Gospels|

The Temptation Narrative Missing from John

In my previous post I started to discuss the hypothetical Signs Source that some scholars have claimed lay behind the accounts of Jesus’ miracles in the Gospel of John – one of the now lost documents of early Christianity (assuming it once existed) that I very much wish could be discovered.   Before giving evidence that there was some such written source, I started in the last post by discussing the distinctive view of Jesus’ spectacular deeds in the Fourth Gospel, where they are called “signs” rather than “miracles.” In that post I argued that John has a completely different view of these deeds from that found in Matthew, Mark, and Luke.  In these Synoptics Jesus refuses to do miracles in order to prove his identity.  When he is asked to do so, he indicates that “no sign will be given to this generation” – apart from the sign of Jonah.  Not so in John.   Jesus does signs.  They are designed to make people believe who he is (4:54).   And the Gospel writer himself indicates that [...]

2017-12-09T08:19:17-05:00May 25th, 2015|Canonical Gospels|

Signs in the Gospel of John

For many decades now there have been scholars who have been convinced that the Gospel of John is based, in large part, on written, but no-longer surviving, sources.   It is much debated whether John relied on the Synoptic Gospels for any of its stories, or whether in fact its author had ever read (or even heard of) Matthew, Mark, and Luke. There are very few verbatim overlaps between John and the others, and outside of the Passion narrative there is not a lot of overlap in the stories told.  Somewhat like the Synoptics John does have the healing of a Capernaum official’s son, the feeding of the 5000, and the walking on the water – all told in striking different ways.  John’s four other miracles (which he doesn’t call miracles, but “signs”) are unique to his account (including the favorite miracle on college campuses everywhere, the turning of water into wine, and the favorite of most Hollyood screen writers, the raising of Lazarus). Moreover, the teachings of Jesus are highly distinctive in John.  Almost nothing [...]

2020-04-03T13:38:55-04:00May 23rd, 2015|Canonical Gospels|

Back To the Discovery of Lost Early Christian Writings

I have decided to return to the thread that I unceremoniously cut off nearly two months ago.  At the time – in the middle of the thread -- I decided to start discussing my book on memory and the historical Jesus, since I had just finished it and wanted to get some feedback (which was all terrifically helpful, thank you all very much!).  I then got onto some personal reflections about Moody Bible Institute and related topics.  But now I’m ready, all this time later, to pick up the thread. The thread was dealing with lost writings from early Christianity that I would absolutely love to have (re-)discovered.   If I could choose, which books would be on my list?   Here by way of review is what I have said so far: In the opening posts of the thread I mentioned three early Christian writings (the first two are collections of writings) that I would love to have discovered. First, I would love to have... THE REST OF THIS POST IS FOR MEMBERS ONLY.  If you [...]

2020-04-03T13:41:48-04:00May 22nd, 2015|Reflections and Ruminations|

My Resentment at Moody Bible Institute

OK, I want/need to bring this current thread – or rather, this current tangle of threads – to a close.   I started out talking about what, looking back, I thought favorably about my three years at Moody Bible Institute, and what I felt resentful about it.   This got me on to other things, which I was happy to do, since ten days ago I was at the end of the semester and the end of a book project (which happened simultaneously) and I was burned out and brain dead, and  I couldn’t get up the energy to write anything about serious scholarship on the blog.  But I’m recovered now, and can get on to more important things than me and my life.  Which, frankly, would be most everything!! But I do need to spend this final post on the original thread to explain in very brief order what I am resentful about when it comes to my education as a 17-21 year old at Moody.   There are three things, all of which I could expand [...]

2017-12-09T08:19:47-05:00May 21st, 2015|Bart’s Biography, Reflections and Ruminations|

Authors Who “Just Want to Sell Books”

Sometimes I hear someone criticize me, or another author, by saying “he just wants to sell books.”     That has always struck me as a very strange thing to say.   Of course I want to sell books.  Why else would I write books?   Would I want to write books so no one would read them?  Has there ever been an author on the face of the planet who wanted to write a book that would not be read? What people actually *mean*by that comment, of course, is far more sinister, snide, and offensive.   What they mean is: “he will say anything in a book in order to get people to buy it.”  There may indeed be authors for whom this is true.   I can’t speak for them, only for myself.   And for myself, this is one charge that I really bristle at. Almost no one of course comes out and actually makes the charge directly.  But it must be what they mean, since, as I just pointed out, no one actually faults someone for writing a [...]

2020-04-03T13:41:57-04:00May 20th, 2015|Bart's Critics, Book Discussions|

How I Moved into Trade Publishing

I have been explaining that I started to write books for a broader audience not because that was some kind of goal in my life – just the opposite! – but because I came to think it would be a good thing to try to communicate scholarship on the New Testament to 19-20 year olds in a college-level textbook.  A couple of readers have commented that when my former classmates from Moody have indicated that I wanted (and still want) to write books to become famous, they were not referring to my textbooks but to my trade books for a general (adult) audience.   That’s exactly right – that is indeed what they were referring to.  The reason I’ve been talking about my first textbook is that this was the beginning of my quest to reach out to a broader swath of people.    Here in this post I’ll get to my trade books. After I wrote my first textbook (I’ve now written three, and compiled three anthologies of ancient texts, in good translations, with brief introductions, [...]

On Writing for A College Audience

I have been dealing with some of the criticisms that classmates from my college days at Moody Bible Institute have leveled against me.   The reason this thread started is that I had decided to say a few words about my Moody experience here on the blog.  I didn’t really finish that, but word got out among my former peers (I’m on a listserv that some of them hang out on) and several people made remarks about it.  I’m not sure they knew I was reading their comments.  (!) One comment was that I was in danger of judgment on the Last Day.  I’ve already said a couple of things about that.   Another was that I write my books simply in order to become famous.   This post will be the second one on that.  The third, which I will also deal with in a couple of posts, is the claim that I have led so many people astray (harming them, the truth, and reality as we know it). First let me finish with the view – [...]

How the Bible Explains Suffering – Video

On September 8, 2008 I gave a lecture at the University of California Berkeley.  The lecture was titled "God's Problem and Human Solutions: How the Bible Explains Suffering."  It was part of the Foerster Lectures on the Immortality of the Soul. It is an interesting lecture series.  Established in 1928 by Edith Zweybruck, The series is devoted to lectures that in the words of the founding document) are to be "on the immortality of the soul or other kindred subjects. Such lecture is not to form a part of the regular college course and shall be delivered by some person especially qualified therefore and especially appointed for the purpose."  My lecture does not, obviously, deal with directly with the question of immortality, but with another question of deep importance, suffering. I was introduced on the occasion by a very fine scholar of Christianity in Late Antiquity, whom I have known for years, Susanna Elm, Professor in the Department of History, UC Berkeley. Please adjust gear icon for better definition.

2017-12-09T08:20:34-05:00May 16th, 2015|Public Forum, Video Media|

Writing to Become Famous?

I’ve been referring to the reactions that I received from my former classmates at Moody Bible Institute about some of my posts about what my experience was like there.  Some of them, as I indicated, warned me of future judgment.   Others made some a rather belittling comment:  that I have written my books simply because I have wanted to become famous. My sense is that nothing I say would ever change someone’s mind if that’s what they are already inclined to think, but I do want to say something about the matter from my own perspective. When I started out in my publishing career, I had no idea at all of becoming well known and that certainly was not a goal of mine.  Very, very far from it.   My goal was to be a widely respected scholar among New Testament scholars; I wanted to become a world-class expert on the Greek manuscript tradition of the New Testament.  I had no idea at all of reaching out to the general public in anything I wrote.   I [...]

The Threat of Judgment

Since I’ve been making these posts about my experience at Moody Bible Institute, I’ve been getting some reactions from former classmates there.  Some of these are in a public forum I’m on.  Others have been private communications.    A few of these have been kind and heartening.  Others … not. Among the latter, some have told me that they pity me because of where I will end up on the day of judgment.   Others have suggested that I changed my theological beliefs because that would help me become famous.  Some have expressed both sadness and outrage that I have “led so many people astray.” So, dealing with these kinds of comments one-by-one, in one post at a time.   First, the day of judgment.  Well, none of us knows what will happen on the day of judgment, but I think I’m glad none of my classmates has been appointed to be the judge!    That hasn’t stopped them from judging in the present, of course, and one would think they would be a bit wary of that, given [...]

2020-04-03T13:43:35-04:00May 14th, 2015|Bart’s Biography, Reflections and Ruminations|

Education at Moody

In thinking back on my days at Moody Bible Institute, part of my now-ambivalence has to do with not just what I learned (or more important, what I did not) but also about how the thinking process itself was handled.   That has both a downside and an upside, and I would like to say something about both. I should start by reiterating that I am simply talking about my own personal experience.  Everyone’s experience would have been, and was, different.  Still, my strong sense is that my experience was not simply a result of my personality, although it certainly was in part that, but also as a result to how education itself was approached at Moody.   How did one get good grades at a school like that?   By mastering tons of material.   Committing lots of things to memory.  Knowing exactly what a teacher taught and being able to reformulate it, without changing its substance, in one’s own words. What was not taught, so much, was how to think for oneself.   When one *did* get encouraged [...]

2020-04-03T13:43:48-04:00May 13th, 2015|Bart’s Biography, Reflections and Ruminations|

My Moody Experience

Here I continue with my reflections on my fundamentalist past. For me, as an inordinately gung-ho evangelical Christian teenager, passionate about learning about the Bible, Moody Bible Institute was the ideal learning environment.   More than just about anyone I knew, even there, I thrived on the academic side of the school.  Moody at that time did not give a bachelor’s degree.  It was a three-year diploma.   For a degree, one needed to transfer credits and go to another college.  That’s what I did after my three years, when I could transfer two of those years to Wheaton and graduate from there with a degree in English literature. There was no English literature to speak of at Moody.  In fact there was no liberal arts curriculum of any kind.   It’s not because they rejected the liberal arts as … too liberal.  (!)  It’s that the school simply wasn’t interested in the humanities, the social sciences, or the hard sciences.   Who cares about such things?  What matters is the Bible.   Hence the name of the school:  Moody [...]

2020-04-03T13:44:08-04:00May 12th, 2015|Bart’s Biography, Reflections and Ruminations|

My Fundamentalist Beginning

Lately I’ve been thinking a good deal about my completely ambivalent relationship to my past, in particular in relation to my education at Moody Bible Institute.   In part my thinking has been set off by an email I received from my roommate and best friend at the time, and for years, who was the best man in my wedding and confidante and most closest male friend I had ever had.   He has remained a committed evangelical Christian all these years and continues in ministry.   We never have contact any more, but he reached out to me to say hey, and I’ve been flooded with memories and thoughts since. There is a very big part of me – probably the most noticeable part – that is deeply resentful toward my time at Moody.   But there is another part that occasionally arises to the surface, which realizes that in many ways those three years were very good for me.   Without them, I would not be who I have become and what I am.   Sometimes I forget that. [...]

2020-04-03T13:44:24-04:00May 11th, 2015|Bart’s Biography, Reflections and Ruminations|

Year Three on the Blog

QUESTION:  If I remember right, you just passed the three year mark of the blog. How much have you raised total?   RESPONSE:   Right!  This will be just a short post to provide an update on the blog.   Yes indeed, we passed the three-year mark a month ago, on April 4.  I was going to make a post summarizing the year, but other things got in the way and I ended up doing other threads and never got back to it.  So I’ll do it now, a month late. The blog is still doing great and getting ever better, in my opinion.    First, in direct answer to the question about the money that has been raised.   That is the matter particularly near and dear to my heart.   It’s my ultimate interest, as I’ve said numerous times, since the entire point of the blog, in one sense, is to raise money for charity.   I am very happy indeed to say that we raised $78,000 in our third year of operation. That is significant money, obviously, and [...]

What Can We Know about the Life of Jesus?

QUESTION:   You have stated in your various works that there are some things that we can accept as likely historically true concerning Jesus’ life; his origin in Galilee, his association with John the Baptizer, his crucifixion, etc.  For the rest of the episodes in Jesus’ life do we have to content ourselves with contemplation of what this or that gospel tells us about its author and community? Should we just “get over” this desire to know what really happened two thousand years ago?   RESPONSE:   Yes, this is a very important question.  Of paramount importance!  Here is a sample of how I deal with it in my just-finished-and-ready-to-send-to-my-readers book.  This is from Chapter 5, “False Memories and the Life of Jesus.”  This is the chapter where I discuss what anthropologists have told us about oral cultures and the way they preserve their traditions; it’s a crucial chapter since so many people seem to think that in oral cultures people have better memories that we do, and that they make sure not to change traditions that [...]

2020-04-03T13:44:42-04:00May 8th, 2015|Historical Jesus, Reader’s Questions|

Truth and History

In my recent post in which I made a paean to memory – which will be the way I end my current book dealing with memory and the historical Jesus -- I said the following. MY REMARK:  “The comment that I sometimes get from readers that I find puzzling or disheartening is when they tell me that if there is something in the Gospels that is not historical, then it cannot be true, and if it is not true, then it is not worth reading.  My sense is that many readers will find it puzzling or even disheartening that I find this view puzzling and disheartening.   But I do. Please call me a prophet if you must, but I would like to point out that a number of readers on the blog did indeed find my view puzzling and disheartening.   Mainly puzzling.   The following was a very well reasoned response from a reader, to which I would like to reply: READER’S COMMENT:  Indeed, stories that aren’t true are no less worthwhile to read. The Bible [...]

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