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A Fuller Exposition of the Christ Poem in Philippians

I’ve been talking about the Christ poem in Philippians 2:6-10, and given some keys to it’s interpretation.  If you are new to the discussion, here is the poem itself, about “Jesus Christ…. Who, although he was in the form of God Did not regard being equal with God Something to be grasped after. But he emptied himself Taking on the form of a slave, And coming in the likeness of humans. And being found in appearance as a human He humbled himself Becoming obedient unto death – even death on a cross. Therefore God highly exalted him And bestowed on him the name That is above every name. That at the name of Jesus Every knee should bow Of those in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth. And every tongue confess That Jesus Christ is Lord To the glory of God the Father.   I’ve said some things about it’s interpretation, but here I want to give a fuller explication of its meaning.  I’ve drawn this from my book How Jesus Became God [...]

2020-04-02T14:24:27-04:00February 28th, 2020|Early Christian Doctrine, Paul and His Letters|

Brief Video Promotion of Heaven and Hell

I finally have my grubby paws on a copy of my new book Heaven and Hell: A History of the Afterlife.  Looks great, I'm really pleased.  It will not be available publicly until the publication date of March 31.  But in preparation, my publisher Simon & Schuster has had me do a brief video promotion of it, taped in their studio in New York.   In it they ask me five key questions that I address in the book (among the many many!) -- just to give a taste of the sorts of things I deal with there. Here is the promo, for your viewing interest! Please adjust gear icon for 1080p High-Definition:

2020-02-25T23:07:45-05:00February 25th, 2020|Book Discussions, Video Media|

Did Paul Think Jesus Was a New Adam, Not a Divine Being?

In my last post I started talking about Paul’s “understanding of Christ” – that is, his Christology.  It will take several posts to fill out the picture, and in this one I need to return to the Christ Poem that I talked about last week, expanding my discussion of it from what I said then.   Just so you don’t have to flip back through to find the former post, here is what the poem says, set in poetic lines.   It comes from Phil 2:5-7. It is introduced by Paul’s exhortation to his readers to “Have this mind in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus”:  And then he says   Who, although he was in the form of God Did not regard being equal with God Something to be grasped after. But he emptied himself Taking on the form of a slave, And coming in the likeness of humans. And being found in appearance as a human He humbled himself Becoming obedient unto death – even death on a cross. Therefore God highly exalted him [...]

2020-04-08T11:03:25-04:00February 24th, 2020|Early Christian Doctrine, Paul and His Letters|

Was Christ an Angel, According to Paul?

I have received a number of comments and questions on last week’s about Paul’s understanding of who Christ was, based especially on the key passage called the “Christ Poem” in Philippians 2:6-11.  An intriguing passage!  But very puzzling in light of what Paul says elsewhere about Christ, as readers have pointed out, and asked about.   So I thought I should return to the matter and lay out how I understand Paul’s “Christology” – his “understanding of Christ.”    I talked about it at length in my book How Jesus Became God, and have dealt with it on the blog on occasion.  But here I want to address it head on.   To make sense of my comments it is important to remember two sets of terms that scholars have long used for early understandings of Christ.   A “low Christology is one that understands Christ primarily as a HUMAN who somehow and in some way became divine. A “high” Christology is one that understands him primarily as GOD in some sense from before his birth. [...]

2020-02-23T21:30:08-05:00February 23rd, 2020|Early Christian Doctrine, Paul and His Letters|

Fund-Raising Blog Dinner on March 13, Washington D.C.

On March 13, I will be holding a fund-raising dinner for the blog in Washington DC from 7:00 - 9:00 pm..  It will be at a nice restaurant to be named later (either the Bistro Bis at the Kimpton Hotel George or somewhere near by).  We will have a maximum of seven places at the table (along with me, making eight). For the fund-raising:  the event is $200 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.  We did a similar event in December in Durham, and a good time was had by all.  Or [...]

2020-02-22T18:02:50-05:00February 23rd, 2020|Public Forum|

Buddhist Interview Questions on Suffering

Here is the final bit of my interview with the South Korean Buddhist editors The Monthly YangWoo Magazine 3/2020.  Not surprisingly they were particularly interested in my views of why there is suffering in the world.  As you know, that is a central component of Buddhist thought.   I know many people who find Buddhist approaches highly satisfying; many others who simply do not think that way. My own writings about suffering – especially my book God’s Problem -- have all been connected in one way or another with the western tradition, rooted in both Judaism and Christianity, especially as these are seen in the Bible itself.  I make no qualms about the fact that these are the traditions I resonate with.  I do not think that is either good or bad, in part because I do not believe it is *possible* to have a neutral position on important questions – any important question (arguably any question at all!).  Even if you try.  And even if you claim you do have a neutral position. And so [...]

2020-04-02T14:25:26-04:00February 21st, 2020|Reader’s Questions|

More Buddhist Questions on the Bible

I continue now with the interview I did with the Buddhist editors of the Korean magazine: The Monthly YangWoo Magazine 3/2020.   They had some interesting questions, as outsiders to Christianity but who see Christian churches, pastors, and believers in their environment, and they wanted my opinion as someone who knows the Christian world but is not longer committed to it.   This will be the second of three posts.   Q5. We feel that some of the paragraphs in the Bible are correct and some of them are not. Moreover, we feel priests and/or pastors, who know and don't know the facts mentioned above, provide incorrect and non-reasonable opinions and sermons about the Bible to Christians and others. And the reason they do so is only to pursue their own profits  by blinding their followers' eyes and ears. For example, Martin Luther who is famously known as a religion reformer said “Reason is the greatest enemy that faith has. Reason should be destroyed in all Christians. Reason is the Devil's greatest whore.” What do you think [...]

2020-04-02T14:25:33-04:00February 20th, 2020|Reader’s Questions|

Great Deal on My New Book!!

Are you interested in pre-ordering my new book: Heaven and Hell: A History of the Afterlife?   Here's a fantastic deal.  As you may know, I have done eight courses over the years with the Great Courses (starting back when they were called The Teaching Company!).   If you pre-order the book (or have already done so), you can receive an 80% discount on any of them.   That's a pretty rippin' serious discount. Just click on this address. The Great Courses I've done over the years. The New Testament The Historical Jesus Lost Christianities: Christian Scriptures and the Battles over Authentication From Jesus to Constantine: A History of Early Christianity The History of the Bible: The Making of the New Testament Canon After the New Testament: The Writings of the Apostolic Fathers The Greatest Controversies in Early Christianity How Jesus Became God For full descriptions of each of these courses, go here: Are you familiar with the Great Courses?  They really are great -- not mine necessarily, but in general.  I've watched a ton of them, on [...]

2020-02-19T08:24:53-05:00February 19th, 2020|Public Forum|

Interview with Buddhists on the New Testament

I was recently asked to do an interview with a magazine in South Korea, produced by (and for, I assume) Buddhists interested in other religious traditions.  As you may know, Christianity also has a significant footprint in Korea; even back in the late 70s I had Korean classmates studying for ministry at Princeton Theological Seminary. The editor asked me a range of questions, and I provided relatively short answers, on a range of interesting and important topics.  The interview was published last week and the publisher has graciously given me permission to post them here, on the assumption that most of you will not be reading South Korean magazines!     But if you do, you can catch the questions (in Korean) and my answers (in English):  The Monthly YangWoo Magazine 3/2020. This will take two posts. To see this interview, join the blog!  It's easy to do and costs very little -- less than a burger at Five Guys a *month*.  And so much better for you.  The little you pay does a lot of good, [...]

2020-04-02T14:25:50-04:00February 18th, 2020|Reader’s Questions|

How Ancient is the Idea of Christ’s “Incarnation”?

Last week I was asked about the famous passage often known (among scholars) as the "Christ Hymn" of Philippians, 2:6-11.  For a very long time (mid 20th c?) scholars have argued that it is a passage Paul did not write himself, but one that he is actually *quoting*.  The passage seems to affirm the idea that Christ existed *before* he came into the world. That may not seem weird to modern Christians, but in fact the only place where the idea is (otherwise) explicitly stated is in the Gospel of John.   In Mark's Gospel there is not a word about Jesus existing before his birth, or, remarkably in Matthew or Luke either!  In those Gospels Jesus is born of a virgin.  But *nothing* suggests that he existed before then.  When God made Mary pregnant through the spirit, that is when the Son of God came into being -- for those Gospels. Only with John is Jesus said to be a pre-existent being:  and in John there is not a word about Jesus' mother being a [...]

2020-04-02T14:27:27-04:00February 17th, 2020|Canonical Gospels, Paul and His Letters|

How Do I Get To Know What Is In the Bible?

There are a lot of people, billions, actually, who are interested in the Bible -- either because of their personal beliefs or because they they realize its historical and cultural importance -- but don’t actually know what it’s about.  The broader interest makes a good deal of sense, and not just for committed Jews and Christians.   After all, a good deal of the history of the West is tied closely to the Christian tradition rooted in the Bible.  And how can one understand Western culture without it?  Think about the history of art, music, and literature, for example.  Still, most people really don’t know the Bible.  By that I don’t mean they don’t know what scholars have come to learn about the Bible (that virtually goes without saying!); I just mean they don’t know what’s actually in the Bible. One reason, of course, is that most people don’t read the Bible.  But an even more important one is that those who do read the Bible do not do so in order to learn what it’s [...]

2020-02-14T10:06:18-05:00February 14th, 2020|Reflections and Ruminations, Teaching Christianity|

Heaven and Hell: Press Release!!

I am happy to say as that we move toward publication of my book, my publisher has just issued a press release to announce that it's coming soon.  The release includes several endorsements by experts, which are always gratifying to see, and brief comments taken from the early reviews done by journals that announce and evaluate forthcoming books to booksellers, bookstores, and publishers.   It's a a nice release, I think.  Here 'tis.     News from Simon & Schuster 1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020 Publicity Contact: Cat Boyd (212) 698-7183 / [email protected] From the New York Times Bestselling Author of Misquoting Jesus and The Triumph of Christianity HEAVEN AND HELL A History of the Afterlife Bart D. Ehrman  Simon & Schuster | March 31, 2020 | $28 | Hardcover | 9781501136733 “Ehrman’s twin strengths are deep knowledge and an accessible style. This displays both in spades.” — Booklist “Ehrman’s eloquent understanding of how death is viewed through many spiritual traditions is scintillating, fresh, and will appeal to scholars and lay readers alike.” [...]

2020-02-12T08:56:08-05:00February 12th, 2020|Book Discussions|

Jesus Kissing Mary Magdalene: A Bizarre Scene in the Gospel of Philip

A number of readers responded to my post about whether Jesus and Mary Magdalene were intimate by pointing out that the non-canonical Gospel of Philip sure does seem to *say* they were!   So, what do I have to say about that? I've dealt with the issue on the blog before, but a lot of you were just a twinkle in our eye at the time, so here I'll deal with it again.   I have a reasonably full discussion of the relevant issues in my book Peter, Paul, and Mary Magdalene.   In the book I put the discussion in the context of – yes, you guessed it --  Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code, the one source many people turn to for the Gospel of Philip (!).  Few people who talk about the relevant passage have actually read the book.  It strikes many readers today as unusually strange.  But in any event, this is what I say about the book and the Kissing Passage there. ************************************************************** Some of the historical claims about the non-canonical Gospels in the [...]

What About Accurately Preserved *Oral* Traditions?

Yesterday I talked about arguments Muslims and Christians sometimes make about their written texts – that the only way to explain the preservation of the “originals” is that it was a divine miracle, with the corollary argument that for that reason, these writings really do contain the truth.  It is a very, very bad argument, for reasons I explained. A number of religious traditions also boast of the unbelievable accuracy of the oral traditions of their religion.  In this case, the claim is usually not made in order to prove that the tradition must have a divine origin, but to show that what is said in sacred texts found in writing today is exactly what was said back *before* there were any written texts, that the religion hasn’t changed an iota over all these centuries.   I am always entirely skeptical of these claims.  Then again, historians are always skeptical of claims and ask for evidence.  If there’s good evidence, then there’s no reason to be skeptical on principle.  But if historians simply accepted what “everyone [...]

2020-04-02T14:27:44-04:00February 10th, 2020|Reader’s Questions, Reflections and Ruminations|

Sacramento Lecture: Cancelled

Several people have asked me about my scheduled lecture in Sacramento at the Slavic Pastors apologetics conference.  I'm sorry to say that the sponsors of the event have cancelled my talk (without, well, notifying me!).  They assure me that it is not because of my views, but because of their financial restraints.   I'm not hugely sorry, as it would have been a bit of a lark and not my normal kind of thing: it was a long trip over three days to tell a group of conservative evangelical pastors that Jesus really did exist.  (!)

2020-02-09T14:25:56-05:00February 9th, 2020|Public Forum|

Raffle Winners!

I am pleased to announce that the raffle for galleys of my book Heaven and Hell: A History of the Afterlife has been concluded.  We have three winners of the autographed copies, and I have notified them.  If you participated and I did not notify you, I'm so sorry. But be of good cheer!  The book will be available on March 31. Many thanks to all who participated!

2020-02-09T14:07:17-05:00February 9th, 2020|Public Forum|

Why Do Smart People Make Stupid Arguments?

I’m always puzzled about why smart people make (and believe) such stupid arguments.  We see this all the time, of course, in political discourse and family disagreements, not to mention department meetings, but since my field is religious studies I hear it the most in connection with the great religions of the world.  Actually, I guess I find it less puzzling than aggravating. A lot of conservative Christians get upset with me when I push them for evidence for their views, and so I thought I should devote this post to give equal share time to other religions whose self-appointed representatives send me proofs of the superiority of their views, based on hard “evidence.”   It is really difficult to believe that someone can actually be persuaded by these claims.  Let me stress, I am NOT (repeat NOT) saying anything negative about any of these religions – in this case Christianity, Islam, and Hinduism.  I’m decidedly not.  I’m saying something negative about very bad arguments used to “prove” their inherent superiority to one another. I will [...]

Jesus as Single: An Actual Argument!

So far I have pointed out that it is flat-out wrong to say that every Jewish man in the first century was married and was expected to be married. It is not only demographically impossible (there were not enough women to go around) but we know of Jewish men from the time of Jesus who were not married and were proud of it. Strikingly, they, like him, were apocalyptically minded Jews – such as the Essenes and the apostle Paul. I have also argued that whatever Mary Magdalene was to Jesus, she was not his lover and spouse, to the great disappointment of us all….. But is there an actual argument that Jesus was not married other than the silences? I think there is. And this is what it is. A good deal of Jesus’ teaching, of course, was ethical in nature, about how people ought to live and conduct themselves. Many people think of Jesus as one of the great moral teachers of all time, and I have no quarrel with that. But I [...]

2020-05-01T13:28:08-04:00February 7th, 2020|Historical Jesus, Sex and Sexuality in the Bible|

Demons and Christians in Antiquity! Guest Post By Travis Proctor

Some readers have suggested that I have guest posts from my former PhD students describing their dissertations.  Great idea!  This is our first shot at it.  One of my most recent PhDs was Travis Proctor, who is now an Assistant Professor of Religion at  Wittenberg College in Springfield Ohio.   Travis wrote a terrifically interesting dissertation on demons in early Christianity.  It turns out, it's not only a really intriguing topic, but unexpectedly complicated. The dissertation was called "Rulers of the Air: Demonic Bodies and the Making of the Ancient Christian Cosmos," completed in 2017.  And just recently it has won Travis a major international award from University of Heidelberg, German.  See: I asked Travis to summarize the dissertation for us, and here is what he has to say!  (I will be happy to post your comments on this; Travis will not be able to respond directly.)   ********************************************************************************* Clement of Alexandria, one of the most famous philosophers and ethical teachers of early Christianity, was no fan of eating meat. But Clement’s rationale for avoiding [...]

2020-04-04T16:23:27-04:00February 5th, 2020|Canonical Gospels, Historical Jesus|

Was Jesus Intimate with Mary Magdalene?

  I pointed out in my last post that most people simply assume that Jesus was not married because there is no mention of his wife in any of our sources, or any mention that he ever had a wife. And so it is assumed that he did not have one. As scholars often, and rightly, argue, that is an argument from silence, and on it's own it is not a very strong one – since, among other things, none of these sources indicates, either, that he was not married. And so it  is not evidence in one direction or another. It’s a good point, but my own view is that the silence in this case is telling – though not for the reason people sometimes say. It is sometimes wrongly asserted – by no less an inimitable authority than Dan Brown, in the Da Vinci Code – that if there was no claim that Jesus was not married that must mean that he was married, since Jewish men were “always” married. In my last [...]

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