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Who Was Jesus?

This is a continuation of a soon-to-be-compiled longer post for broader consumption on the New Testament.  Now that I have described what the NT is, how it is structured and organized, and how it has come down to us, I get to one of the key issues: what does the New Testament tell us about the historical figure of Jesus himself?   ********************************************** There can be no doubt that Jesus of Nazareth has been the most influential person in the history of the world.   The church founded on his name shaped the history of Western Civilization, and over two billion people worship him today.  And yet, because of the nature of our sources, it is surprisingly difficult to know what he actually said and did. Jesus is thought to have died around 30 CE.   He is not referred to in any Greek or Roman sources of the first century, and only briefly in our major Jewish source of the period, the historian Josephus.  The earliest Christian references are from the New Testament, but most of [...]

2022-03-03T14:35:52-05:00November 29th, 2019|Historical Jesus|

Thanksgiving 2019

Some Thanksgiving ruminations, from where I am here and now. I love holidays.  Not everyone does.  When I was younger that was always a mystery to me – what’s not to like?  But as I get older (and older and older), I get it.  Or at least part of it.  So many people hate the holidays and the suffering they bring.  Bitter and wrenching loneliness when all those around them are enjoying good times with family and friends and they … are not.  Or awful memories of holidays past – ugly family blow-ups or ill-timed tragedies. Some of us are among the lucky ones: these are not problems.  But that itself is a problem.  Why should we have such a self-congratulatory happy, restful, fulfilling time when others….?   Also, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized just how fraught just about all our holidays actually are, how, often invisibly, they are so closely connected not with things to celebrate but with real human trauma and tragedy. The Fourth of July.  The fireworks are supposed to remind us [...]

2019-11-27T12:47:31-05:00November 27th, 2019|Public Forum, Reflections and Ruminations|

Setting Dates for the Gospels

One of the questions I often get asked on the blog is how we know when the Gospels were written.   I've answer the question at some length before, and thought it might be useful to answer it again. Here's what I said years ago, and looking at it, I'd say the same thing again.  In fact, I will.  Here: **************************************************************************** QUESTION: How are the dates that the Gospels were composed determined? I've read that Mark is usually dated to 70 or later because of the reference to the destruction of the temple. Is this the only factor that leads scholars to conclude that it was composed in 70 CE or later or are there other factors? I've heard that Luke and Matthew are likewise dated aroun 80-85 CE to give time for Mark to have been in circulation enough to be a source for them. Is this accurate? How is John usually dated to around 95 CE (or whatever the correct period is) since it is usually described as independent of the other Gospels?   [...]

2020-04-02T14:34:59-04:00November 26th, 2019|Canonical Gospels, Reader’s Questions|

The Annual Meeting of Biblical Scholars, and ALL Those Books!!

I decided to look back to what I wrote on this day five years ago, and I started to laugh -- it's *exactly* the same think I was thinking just yesterday, about all the trillions of books that get written about the Bible and the scholars who write them.   I've decided to re-post it, and simply update it to this very moment. ****************************************************** I've had a terrific and interesting first few days at the Society of Biblical Literature annual meeting here in San Diego.   This society comprises professors and other scholars of biblical literature mainly from the U.S., but with attendees from overseas as well.   It meets along with the American Academy of Religion, which is the professional society for all professors of religion who are not  teachers of biblical studies (so experts in Christianity outside the NT, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, anthropologists of religion, historians of religion, and so on and on).   All together it is a very large group.  I don’t have the exact numbers, but I think maybe there are 10,000 or 11,000 [...]

2020-04-02T14:35:07-04:00November 25th, 2019|Reflections and Ruminations, Teaching Christianity|

Maybe Jesus DOES Talk about “Homosexuality”?

In my recent post I pointed out that Jesus said nothing – nada! – about same sex relations in any of his surviving teachings.   One blog member pointed out a post on a different blog by New Testament scholar Scot McKnight arguing that there are there passages in the Gospels where in fact Jesus *may* have been referring to homosexuality, in condemnatory terms.  I thought, HUH?  THAT’s interesting!  I better look.  So I did.   I don’t think there’s any way this is right, but you can decide for yourself. This will take two posts.  I’ll cite the the passages, then Scot’s assessment of them (which I summarize), and my response. Several things to say at the outset.   I have known Scott (not well, but a bit) for many years.  He is a bona fide scholar of the New Testament, a well-trained and careful interpreter of the text.  He is also a committed evangelical Christian, and an interesting one: a few years ago he “converted” (or at least moved on or over) to join the Episcopal [...]

Do Textual Variants Actually *Matter* For Much??

In light of my previous post, I thought I should address a question I get asked a lot. Or rather, a rhetorical question that I hear posed a lot -- especially by evangelical apologists who want to insist that even though there are hundreds of thousands of differences in our manuscripts, none of them really matters for anything that's important. (This was a perennial objection to my book Misquoting Jesus.)  Is that true?   I dealt with it many years ago on the blog, and it's time to address it again. ************************************************************ QUESTION: I got the impression (I can’t remember where or if you said this… or if Bruce Metzger said it) that no significant Christian doctrine is threatened by text critical issues… and so, if that is the case, who cares if, in Mark 4: 18, Jesus spoke of the “illusion” of wealth or the “love” of wealth. I mean, who cares other than textual critics and Bible translators?   RESPONSE: The first thing to emphasize is a point that I repeatedly make and that [...]

Introduction to the Manuscripts of the New Testament

This now will be the next portion of my longer blog post that will serve as an Introduction to the New Testament.  The previous section was on how the 27 books came to be collected into “the” New Tesatment; this one is on how the books were copied/transmitted over the centuries. As with the other sections, I’ve made this one pretty short, because I’m trying to be as concise as I can, with links to other blog posts throughout.  I don’t want the entire article to be massively long.  One could obviously write a book or two on this topic (and many have!); but for a brief introduction, I want to hit only the really key points.   The Text of the New Testament How, though, were the books copied?  In the ancient world the only way to get a copy of a book was by copying it by hand or by having someone else do so:  one page, one sentence, one word at a time.  The earliest Christian copyists would not have been trained [...]

2022-07-03T16:47:10-04:00November 19th, 2019|New Testament Manuscripts|

Two More Openings for Blog Dinner in Durham, December 3. Interested?

Blogging friends!   I have learned that two of the participants for the fund-raising blog dinner on December 3 will not be able to come after all.   So there are two seats available.  Here is the original announcement.  If you're interested, please let me know!  Tempus is fugiting. ******************************************************************************** On December 3, at 7:00 pm., I will be holding a new kind of blog event in Durham NC: a fund-raising dinner.  It will be at a nice restaurant to be named later.  We will have a maximum of seven places at the table (along with me, making eight). For the fund-raising:  the event is $100 per plate, the money to be donated directly to the blog.    Each person will also pay for his or her own meal. There will be no set agenda for the dinner.  It will be a chance to get to meet each other and talk about matters of mutual interest and importance, especially as they relate to the blog –anything connected, even remotely, with the New Testament and early Christianity.  The basic [...]

2019-11-18T16:22:23-05:00November 18th, 2019|Public Forum|

How Did We Get The 27 Books of the New Testament?

27 Books of the New Testament. This is now a continuation of my projected longer blog post that will serve as an introduction to the New Testament (possibly around 5000 – 6000 words or so).  In the first section, I discussed the layout and structure of the New Testament. In the second I gave brief descriptions of each of the twenty-seven books.  This one is spread out over two posts and deals with the question of how we actually got it.  How was it collected together into a “book” and how was it transmitted to us over the centuries. How Did We Get The 27 Books of the New Testament? The New Testament did not drop from the sky one day a few years after the death of Jesus.  It was written over a number of years by a number of authors with a number of different purposes, interests, and perspectives.  But how did we actually get it?  That is, who decided on these particular 27 Books of the New Testament (early Christian writings) rather [...]

Is the Bible Inspired by God? Guest Post by Evangelical Apologist Mike Licona

This particular post is free and open to the public.  If you belonged to the blog, you would get five posts a week, for about what it costs to send a letter.  And every penny goes to charity!  So why not join? Mike Licona has burst on the scene as one of the leading spokespersons for evangelical Christianity and its theological claims, especially that Jesus was physically raised from the dead, that purely historical research can actually demonstrate that it happened, and that the Bible is literally inspired by God himself and to be accepted as inerrant. As many of you know, I have had three public debates with Mike (on the question of whether historians can proved that Jesus was raised from the dead; the debates were not about whether Jesus was raised from the dead – they were about whether this kind of claim can be proved by historians using historical methods, or, instead, is a theological claim that cannot be demonstrated historically); and recently we shared a stage at an evangelical Christian [...]

2021-02-13T01:11:17-05:00November 17th, 2019|Bart's Debates, Historical Jesus|

Jesus and “Homosexuality”

This post is free and available to everyone.  Most posts on the blog are for members only.  But the good news is that it's extremely easy and inexpensive to join.  It costs less than 50 cents a week, for five posts of this substance.  You get TONS for your money.  And all proceeds to to charity.  So why not? Most Christians today who continue to condemn homosexuality, whether in publicly opposing the LGBTQ community or privately assigning people of various sexual identities or non-heterosexual actions to eternal damnation, or at least to God’s bad side, do so on the basis of the New Testament.  Yes, they know about the book of Leviticus and it’s condemnation of men having sex with men; but most of the time that is a kind of back-up argument. Since they realize and openly admit that so much else in the book of Leviticus is no longer applicable to Christians (for example, kosher food laws), they realize that the case against same-sex relations, let alone sexual orientation, cannot be water-tight with [...]

The Gospel of Thomas and the Other Gospels

Here's a post from seven years ago that is still very important and intriguing to anyone interested in the NT and early Christianity.   It's mainly about the most influential and historically important Gospel from outside the New Testament.  I've inserted a couple of explanations [in brackets] to update the post. ******************************************************************* One of the benefits of teaching at a research university with a graduate program is that – at least where I am – there are periodic reading groups with other faculty members and graduate students. I go to a couple of these a month, including one that I organize. As it turns out, last week I went to two. The first was mine, the (other ) CIA, in which we typically read someone’s work-in-progress. That week’s presentation was a paper by my former student and soon-to-be faculty member in early Christianity at Duke Divinity School, Maria Doerfler, an exceptionally bright and erudite human being [who now is teaching at Yale], who gave a paper on a virtually unknown letter by the famous fourth-century bishop [...]

The Coming Armageddon: I Need Some Suggestions!

As many of you know, my next trade book is tentatively titled: Expecting Armageddon: The book of Revelation and the Imminent End of the World, to be published by Simon & Schuster.  I would like some help from interested lay folk in the reading public with a certain aspect of it, and would love to hear your suggestions. First let me say that I have not begun any serious research for it yet.  My plan is to get going in a hard-hitting, all-out kind of way in the early summer, depending on how quickly the book I’m working on now (the scholarly monograph on otherworldly journeys) gets written.   I simply have too many things on my research-plate just now.   Plus, that was the schedule I had originally planned: start on Armageddon in the summer and crunch as hard and for as long as I can and need to before getting down to writing it.  Usually it takes me about a year to do the research on these things. BUT, what I always like to do [...]

Are Same-Sex Relations Condemned in the Old Testament?

When people want to show that the Bible condemns same-sex relations – either to justify depriving LGBTQ people of civil rights, to condemn them morally, to preclude them from serving in church offices, or even to participate at all in faith communities (or for any other reason) – there are a few passages that typically get cited, usually with vigor. I should stress that there are only a few passages that get cited, since out of the entire Bible – thirty-nine books in the Old Testament, twenty-seven in the New – there are in fact very few that appear to relate to the matter directly.  I stress both the adverb “directly” and the verb “appear.” In terms of “directly: It is possible to take thousands of passage that have nothing to do with same-sex relations and say that they are definitive for them (as in the phrase that was already worn out decades ago: Adam and Eve not Adam and Steve). In terms of “appear”: virtually all of the passages that do seem to deal [...]

A Synopsis of Each New Testament Book

The following post is free for anyone who wants to look.  Most posts on the blog are only for members.  The good news is that it's easy and inexpensive to join.  You get five posts a week, for less than 50 cents.   And every cent goes to charity helping those in need.  So why not join???   In my previous post I indicated that I will be doing a short thread that introduces the New Testament very broadly, with the goal of then combining all the posts into one long (4000-5000 word) post that can then be accessed by anyone doing an Internet search for a basic overview.  If you don’t recall: see This is my second post of the series.  In it, I give a very, very brief description of each book of the New Testament, the kind of thing you can say without taking another breath.  It seems like this might be useful for anyone who just wants to know what each book is and, very roughy, what it is about. The [...]

2019-11-11T09:44:48-05:00November 10th, 2019|Public Forum|

Blog Fund-Raising Dinner, December 3

On December 3, at 7:00 pm., I will be holding a new kind of blog event in Durham NC: a fund-raising dinner.  It will be at a nice restaurant to be named later.  We will have a maximum of seven places at the table (along with me, making eight). For the fund-raising:  the event is $100 per plate, the money to be donated directly to the blog.    Each person will also pay for his or her own meal. There will be no set agenda for the dinner.  It will be a chance to get to meet each other and talk about matters of mutual interest and importance, especially as they relate to the blog –anything connected, even remotely, with the New Testament and early Christianity.  The basic idea is that you will be able to pick my brain at will, and I may pick yours. For any of the table members who want an add-on, with additional brain-picking potential: for an additional donation of $100 you can start with drinks with me at 5:30.   I [...]

2019-11-08T06:54:10-05:00November 8th, 2019|Public Forum|

One C. S. Lewis Writing I Relate To

When I became an evangelical Christian in high school, my first introduction to “apologetics” was through the works of C. S. Lewis.  Apologetics involves establishing reasoned ways to “defend the faith” against intellectual attack and to “demonstrate” the superiority of the faith, intellectually, for inquiring minds, in order to convince people.   C. S. Lewis was many things: a brilliant scholar of early modern English at both Oxford and Cambridge (many people don’t know he wrote serious academic scholarship, e.g., on seventeenth-century English); an author of enormously popular children books (Chronicles of Narnia); and a Christian apologist (e.g., Mere Christianity; The Problem of Pain). In evangelical circles at the time – and still today, in places – Lewis was/is revered almost as a demi-god, or at least an angel, if not the fourth member of the Trinity.  Not so much in other circles.  In graduate school, when I told my Oxford-trained philosophy professor (who was also a Christian theologian) that I was interested in C. S. Lewis, he grimaced and said with some considerable force, “He’s [...]

2020-04-08T10:49:43-04:00November 7th, 2019|Reflections and Ruminations|

What Is the New Testament? A Broad Overview

With some very sage outside advice, I have decided to add a new feature to the blog.   Once or twice a week (at least that’s the *plan*) I will create a kind of “general introduction” post, dealing with some broad and basic matter connected with the New Testament, the Historical Jesus, the apostle Paul, the role of women in the church, persecution and martyrdom, heresy and orthodoxy, the development of theology, the Christianization of the empire, etc. etc.   Broad overviews, of the BIG matters, at the introductory level. The idea is to make, say, three or four related posts on each issue, and then, when they’re completed, edit them all together into one massive post (say 4000-5000) words, and have that post well indexed with lots of links to other posts on the blog.  That way, we can maximize its wide availability throughout the internet.  When someone googles “What Is The New Testament,” they will find this particular post; the post will link to other posts on the blog.  People go to these other posts.  [...]

Losing *Your* Faith?

Are you having a difficult time, losing your faith?  Having doubts, but still trying to hold on?  Or not sure if you want to hold on any longer? A couple of days ago I mentioned the "Clergy Project" the organization for clergy ("religion professionals") who have lost their faith and no longer believe in the supernatural.   One of the founders of the project, Linda LaScola, has reminded me that she edits a blog that is completely public (for anyone interested) for just folk like you (not just clergy), called  Rational Doubt – With Voices from The Clergy Project. The posts on the blog are actually written by members of The Clergy Project. Moreover, if you're interested more in who these ex-clergy are and about the phenomenon of religious professionals losing their faaith, you may want to check out the book that Linda produced with the justly  famous philosopher Daniel C. Dennett of Tufts University, called Caught in the Pulpit: Leaving the Faith Behind.  You can find it at

2019-11-04T12:25:28-05:00November 4th, 2019|Public Forum|

Sex and Gender in the Ancient World

Most people agree that there are parts of the Bible that are not applicable today.  We don't normally execute people for being witches or for disobeying parents anymore (at least in the U.S.).  But what about same-sex relations?  Are the Bible's injunctions still applicable about *that*?  It turns out the issues that are involved are different from those surrounding witches and rowdy kids, and n ways most people wouldn't suspect. It's not as easy to explain why, and so I've been laying the background generally by talking about the Bible's understanding of sex and gender broadly.  So far I've talked about the creation of Adam and Eve and what it says about gender and the relationships of male and female (the only gender categories available to the authors), and about how that basic story underlies the insistence by some early Christian authors (1 Timothy 5:11-15, e.g.) that women should be completely submissive to men, and therefore not exercise authority over them or even speak in church (or does it mean generally, unless spoken to?). Now [...]

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