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If the Bible is Contradictory, How Can it Be Authoritative?

In my previous post I explained why the contradictions found in the Bible affect a certain understanding of the inspiration of Scripture.  The contradictions are not a point in and of themselves (OK, OK, so there are contradictions.  So what?).   There actually is a payoff.  In factd, several.  One of the payoffs is that the fundamentalist Christian claim that the Bible has no mistakes of any kind is almost certainly wrong.   But as I have said this is not the only point or even the most important one. I think we can all agree that most people read the Bible for religious reasons, pure and simple.  They think that in *some* sense it is the word of God, and that it provides the guidance they need for what to believe and how to live.   But what if there are *different* and even *irreconcilable* differences from one biblical author to another on precisely these issues?  Which part do you follow?  For then it is not a simple matter of reading any part of the Bible and [...]

2020-04-03T01:14:46-04:00June 29th, 2018|Reflections and Ruminations|

Are Contradictions the Real Point?

In my last couple of posts I’ve talked about internal contradictions in Luke-Acts and John.  I’ve had several readers tell me that they already “got the point” and so they don’t see any reason for me to keep harping on it: there are contradictions so you don’t think the Bible is inerrant.  OK OK OK, got the point! As it turns out, that’s not really the point. To be sure, it is *one* of the points.  But it’s not actually the main one.  If I had to explain fully why it matters that there are internal contradictions in an ancient document created by the use of disparate sources (the case with both Luke-Acts and John) I would do so under three distinct rubrics, each rather complex. Religious implications.  Yes, if there are contradictions in a book found in the Bible that means that the common fundamentalist understanding that the text is inerrant is almost certainly wrong.  I have tried to word that statement carefully.  I’ve noticed that often in these kinds of discussions, people don’t [...]

Internal Discrepancies in the Gospel of John

Yesterday I answered a question about whether some of the discrepancies in Luke-Acts are due to the author having used a variety of sources that had different views.  The blog member who asked the question also wanted to know if this happened in other books from antiquity.  Just sticking with the Bible, the answer is: Yes indeed!    Here is what I say about the same issue with respect to the Gospel of John, in my textbook on the New Testament.   *********************************************************   Authors who compose their books by splicing several sources together don’t always neatly cover up their handiwork but sometimes leave literary seams. The Fourth Evangelist was not a sloppy literary seamster, but he did leave a few traces of his work, which become evident as you study his final product with care. Here are several illustrations. To see what I have to say about this, you will need to belong to the blog.  It doesn't cost much, and you'll learn more than your friends and neighbors will be able to *stand*.  So [...]

2020-04-03T01:16:14-04:00June 26th, 2018|Canonical Gospels, Reader’s Questions|

Why Does Luke Appear to Contradict Himself?

A question has come from a reader, based on my recent post dealing with the apparent contradiction between Luke and Acts on the timing of Jesus’ ascension.   Do contradictions often result from authors editing several documents together and inserting them side by side in their work?  If different source documents have different views, that would create contradictions in the final product which embodies their amalgamation, no?  Here’s the question.   QUESTION: I continue to be struck by how often Bible authors, since there were no copyright laws, seem to edit two or more different versions of an event together as seen in the Documentary Hypothesis. Is it likely that Luke and Acts had such an editor editing two or more manuscripts together thus producing contradictions? I would also like to know if this kind of editing together of two or more manuscripts was a common way of writing ancient books.   RESPONSE: The answer is Yes and Yes.  This apparently did happen with the book of Acts and it is indeed a phenomenon we can [...]

2020-04-17T13:13:36-04:00June 25th, 2018|Acts of the Apostles, Reader’s Questions|

Sources for the Hebrew Bible: A Blast from the Past

I was fishing around for something different to post today, and came across this Q & A from exactly six years ago.  I get asked the question a lot, and I would answer it the same way even now, despised my advancing age...   ************************************************************************************* QUESTION: Do you have a suggestion for a book concerning the OT's construction? I believe in the History of God (by K. Armstrong) she mentioned that there were about five distinct writers for the OT. Is this the scholarly view and do you have a book suggestion to delve deeper into it?   RESPONSE: Right!  The Old Testament (for Christians; otherwise: the Jewish Scriptures, the Hebrew Bible; the Tanakh – these are all more or less synonyms.) It’s been on my mind a lot lately.  Right now, my current writing project is a college-level textbook on the entire Bible, Genesis to Revelation.   This seems to me to be way too much to cram into a semester, but as it turns out, something like half the colleges in the country teach [...]

2020-04-03T01:16:31-04:00June 24th, 2018|Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, Reader’s Questions|

Does Luke Flat Out Contradict Himself?

Sometimes readers ask questions that have answers they probably would not suspect in a million years.  My guess is that this is true of the following interesting query about a contradiction between the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts (written by the same author) about the ascension of Jesus.   QUESTION: Talking of authors who contradict themselves any idea why Luke has Jesus ascending on the day of his resurrection but Acts places it 40 days later!? This seems like quite an obvious mistake for the same writer to make.   RESPONSE: I explain the problem and try to come up with a solution in my book The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture.  Here is what I say there (edited to get rid of some of the technical discussion that is not directly germane to the question): ****************************************************************************** How did the proto-orthodox doctrines of Jesus’ bodily ascension and return in judgment affect the text of Scripture? I begin by considering a problem that proves particularly difficult to adjudicate. The final verses of Luke’s Gospel [...]

New Rules for Comments on the Blog

  I have made an executive decision involving rules for comments on the blog.  I have received complaints from blog users about some of the comments.  I think we all (the thousands of us!) are doing well when it comes to being polite and reasonably generous with one another, unlike a lot of other sites.   But some of the comments are distracting, either because there are so many of them from one person or because they are excessively long. The comment section of the blog was never intended to be a forum for people to develop at great length their personal views about something – that is, it was never to be a blog for other people who have always wanted their own blog.  It was meant to be a place where people could interact with fair concision both with me directly and with one another, where people could be open to new ideas and thought, where people could express themselves succinctly and to the point and give and gain new ideas. I don’t want [...]

2018-06-21T07:37:32-04:00June 21st, 2018|Public Forum|

How I Write: The Crucial Phase

I have a very distinctive way of writing books, even though every time I write one, I think it’s the only sensible way to do it.  For years I’ve encouraged my students to do it this way when they write their dissertations, and I’ve talked to friends and colleagues about it, subtly (well, sometimes not so subtly) suggesting they do it.  And so far, after writing books for over thirty years, I’ve not convinced a single person to do it this way! I’m sure that’s because everyone has to do it their own way.  You really have to be in your own comfort zone when writing a book, you have to feel it’s the best way for you.  And that’s because no matter how you do it, it’s really hard.  My wife is now working fervently on her next book, a study of Shakespeare’s late tragedies in light of a philosophical tradition (which comes out of a certain reading of Wittgenstein) called Ordinary Language Philosophy, and just about every day she exclaims, “It’s HARD to [...]

2020-04-03T01:16:56-04:00June 19th, 2018|Book Discussions, Reflections and Ruminations|

Does the Book of Acts Portray the *Teachings* of Paul Accurately?

This is my second post on the portrayal of Paul in the book of Acts.  In the one previous I tried to show, briefly, how the account of Paul’s activities in Luke’s narrative do not gel well with what he says in his own letters.  Here I address the question that was originally raised: his teachings.  Do the things Paul says in Acts coincide with what he himself indicates?   I won’t give a detailed discuss, but just look at one key passage.  Again, this is drawn from my book The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings. ************************************************************** Paul’s Teaching. Almost all of Paul’s evangelistic sermons mentioned in Acts are addressed to Jewish audiences. This itself should strike us as odd given Paul’s repeated claim that his mission was to the Gentiles. In any event, the most famous exception is his speech to a group of philosophers on the Areopagus in Athens (chap. 17). In this speech, Paul explains that the Jewish God is in fact the God of all, pagan and [...]

Does the Book of Acts Accurately Portray the Life and Teachings of Paul?

A fundamental question has recently come to me, which involves one of the central issues in the study of the life and teachings of Paul.  As most members of the blog may know, there are thirteen books in the NT that claim to be written by Paul, six of which are widely thought not actually to be by him.  But that means, on the positive side, that we almost certainly have seven letters actually written by Paul, so that if we want to know about him, we can turn to his own writings (unlike, for example, Jesus, from whom we have no writings). We also, however, have the book of Acts, the fifth book of the NT, which gives a narrative of the spread of Christianity throughout the Roman world, as the faith moved from being a sect within Judaism to becoming a world-wide religion for both Jews and Gentiles.  The key figure in that transition, and the main character in the book of Acts, is Paul. But can we trust that wuat the book [...]

2018-06-17T16:58:41-04:00June 17th, 2018|Paul and His Letters, Reader’s Questions|

Why I Am Obsessed with Jesus: A Blast from the Past

Here's a new idea: feel free to suggest to me that I repost one of the posts that you most like from earlier days on the blog!  That was done, unsolicited, by one of the long-time faithful followers of the blog, who wanted to see me repost a post from four years, ago, on why I continue to be obsessed with Jesus even though I am not a believer.   Here it is! ************************************************************************* There is a relatively new online journal, “On Faith,” that is top-of-the line and very interesting. A couple of days ago they published a short article that I wrote, in connection with How Jesus Became God; I called the article “Why I Am Obsessed with Jesus.” It contains some views you will have seen from me before, and some others. Here is the article as I sent it to them. (The full link to the online version in the journal comes at the end). ********************************************************** I finally figured out why I’m so obsessed with Jesus. It makes sense that Jesus mattered to [...]

2020-11-08T00:11:44-05:00June 15th, 2018|Reflections and Ruminations|

How Does an Author Write a Trade Book? Phase 2.

On and off I have been talking about the process I take for writing a book, and will continue that conversation here in this post, to explain where I am just now – a very good place indeed – on my book on the origins of the Christian understandings of the afterlife. In my previous posts I talked about how I go about doing my reading for a book, and what I said there certainly applies here.  I’ve read hundreds of books and articles on the afterlife, starting with works that I knew would be broad-based and foundational, such as Alan Bernstein, The Invention of Hell; Jan Bremmer, The Rise and Fall of the Afterlife; Alan F. Segal, Life After Death: A history of the Afterlife in the Religions of the West; and, well, lots of others.  From these (and other places) I made lists of primary texts and scholarly works that I needed to master and read all of them, and from them made fuller lists of books and articles to read, and read [...]

2020-04-03T01:18:10-04:00June 14th, 2018|Book Discussions, Reflections and Ruminations|

The Name Judas Iscariot: What Does It Mean?

Several members of the blog have commented on my posts about the death of Judas by asking about his name itself.  Most interesting, what does “Iscariot” mean?  I deal briefly with the topic in my book on Judas, a book in which I deal at length with the newly discovered Gospel of Judas, but then go on to say what I think we can actually know historically about the man himself, and his one most famous nefarious act, the betrayal of Jesus.  Here is what I say about the name. **************************************************** The Name Judas Iscariot Sometimes knowing the names of persons from antiquity can give further information about them.  People of the lower classes did not have last names, and so to differentiate people with the same first name, descriptive designations were often added.  For example, there are several different Marys in the New Testament.  “Mary” was one of the most common names in first-century Palestine.  And so each New Testament Mary is given some kind of identifying feature: Mary “the mother of Jesus”; Mary [...]

2020-04-03T01:18:20-04:00June 12th, 2018|Historical Jesus, Reader’s Questions|

Taking the Temperature of the Blog: June 2018

I thought this would be a good time to take stock of the blog briefly, and get a sense of how you, the user and raison d’etre of the project, are feeling about it.  To do this I have several issues, concerns, and/or questions I’d like to raise.  The BIG issue comes at the end, so skip there if you must [points (6) and (7)] Do you like the directions the blog is going? I’m wondering if the topics I cover and the way I cover them are generally satisfactory and pleasing.  Or not.  The pattern I’ve fallen into is to make a post on one thing or another – often in response to a question – and watching that lead into a short thread, as the post generates interesting responses by readers which lead to posts on related issues which lead to other posts on yet other related issues, and so on.  Is that OK, good? The posts tend to be 1000 words or just over. Is that OK still? Sometimes (often?) the posts [...]

2018-06-11T08:44:06-04:00June 11th, 2018|Public Forum, Reflections and Ruminations|

Why Would I Call Myself Both an Agnostic and an Atheist? A Blast from the Past

My personal beliefs came up in my debate with Dinesh D’Souza that I posted last week, and I received several questions about how I classify myself: agnostic or atheist?  I’ve talked about that on the blog a couple of times, but as I am constantly reminded, many of the people who are on the blog now were not on it a year or two ago, as there is turnover and our numbers continue to grow.  And certainly no one (well, almost no one) goes back and reads everything from, say five years ago!   So I thought it would be fine to repost my earlier comments.  It was in response to a question I received back then, very similar to the questions I’ve received over the past week.   ****************************************************** QUESTION: If you don't think God exists, why do you refer to yourself as an agnostic? If this is your perspective, why not refer to yourself as an atheist? Could it be that you don't believe the Christian God exists, but are open to the possibility [...]

Two Rather Bizarre Accounts of How Judas Died

In my experience, most people don’t realize that there are two different accounts of Judas’s death in the New Testament, let alone that these two are very difficult indeed to reconcile with one another.  Virtually impossible, I would say.  But even more people don’t know that there are accounts of Judas’s death from *outside* the New Testament in other sources.  One of these two almost *nobody* knows about, except for a few specialist scholars. The first account comes to us from Papias, a proto-orthodox church author who wrote a five- volume book called An Exposition of the Sayings of the Lord in about 120-130 CE (it is hard to know exactly when) This must have been a very large book indeed (five volumes!) and to our very great regret, it has been lost.  We don’t have it.  All we have are snippets of quotations from it by later church fathers, starting with Irenaeus (around 180 CE) and especially the church historian Eusebius (early fourth century). We aren’t sure why exactly the book was not copied [...]

2020-04-03T01:18:32-04:00June 8th, 2018|Christian Apocrypha, Historical Jesus|

Can We Know Anything Historically About How Judas Iscariot Died?

In this post I continue with the New Testament accounts of the death of Judas Iscariot.  In my previous post I talked about the first account, found in Matthew. Now I look at the second (and only other) one, found in the early part of the book of Acts, written by the same author as the Gospel of Luke.   This post comes in two parts, both taken from my book The Lost Gospel of Judas Iscariot.   In the first part I discuss the speech allegedly given by the apostle Peter to the other disciples in Acts 1, where he describes Judas’s death – in terms very different indeed from those found in Matthew.  Are these reconcilable?  In the second part I ask whether we can say anything *historically* about how Judas actually died. ********************************************************************* In his speech, Peter describes Judas’s death in graphic terms: Now this one [Judas] purchased a field with the wages of his unrighteous act [the betrayal] and falling headlong he burst forth in the middle and all his intestines spilled out.  [...]

2020-04-03T01:18:43-04:00June 7th, 2018|Canonical Gospels, Historical Jesus|

The Death of Judas in Matthew

My recent post on Judas Iscariot has raised a number of questions among readers of the blog.  Here is one of them, about Judas’s death.   QUESTION: Do you have any sense of how Judas met his end after the betrayal? Matthew's version seems at least somewhat plausible, but Act's doesn't.  Or maybe he just took the money and moved elsewhere.   RESPONSE               This is an interesting question for a number of reasons.  For one thing, the only writers who thought that Judas’s demise was important enough to deal with were Matthew and Luke – Mark, John, Paul, and all the others are silent on the matter.  As far as we would know from the Gospels of Mark and John, Judas would have lived to be an old man.  They just don’t say.   And Luke doesn’t give an account in his Gospel, but only later in the book of Acts.  Moreover, the account in Acts certainly seems to stand at odds with what Matthew says in his Gospel. To make sense of it all [...]

2020-04-03T01:19:17-04:00June 5th, 2018|Canonical Gospels, Historical Jesus|

Self-Reflection on The Process of Writing a Book

Every author has different parts of the research and writing process that they enjoy the most.  Which means there are other parts they enjoy the least.  And it really varies from one author to the next. My wife, a Shakespeare scholar, especially loves the reading she does in preparation for a book.  There are lots of others like her, people who just want to read, read, read, and then read some more. I have to admit, this is not the most enjoyable part of my work, for me personally.  I do enjoy reading – which is a good thing, since I spend so many waking hours doing it; but reading for research can often be very hard, even grueling work. That’s because serious scholarship is itself hard.  It’s not an easy read.  It’s not like reading your favorite novel.  And when you’re reading research for a book you have to read closely and intensely.  The first step, as I’ve said before, is knowing how closely and intensely: is this a book or article that I [...]

2020-04-03T01:19:25-04:00June 4th, 2018|Book Discussions, Reflections and Ruminations|

Why Did Judas Iscariot Betray Jesus?

In this edition of the Readers’ Mailbag I address an interesting and perplexing question about Judas Iscariot:   QUESTION You may have mentioned this (I cannot recall) but why did Judas go to the authorities in the first place?   RESPONSE               I wrestled with this question long and hard while writing my book The Lost Gospel of Judas Iscariot, which includes a section on what we can know about the historical Judas.  In the book I argue that there are some things that we can know with relative certainty about Judas (he was one of the Twelve and was the one who actually betrayed Jesus); other things we can profitably surmise based on our evidence (e.g. what it is Judas betrayed to the authorities – not just Jesus’ whereabouts, I argue); and other things that are almost entirely in the realm of speculation. Among the latter I would include the reasons Judas *wanted* to betray Jesus.  Scholars have offered numerous suggestions over the years.  You may have your own favored view.  Here is what [...]

2022-03-31T14:38:07-04:00June 3rd, 2018|Historical Jesus, Reader’s Questions|
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