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Fifty Ways to Forge a Gospel

      You may already know New Testament scholar and blog member James McGrath.  James is the Clarence L. Goodwin Chair in New Testament Language and Literature at Butler University, with many academic interests similar to mine.  Six years ago we were both at a conference at York University (Toronto) that was dealing with ancient Christian apocrypha.  I gave a talk on pseudepigraphy in the antiquity, in which I argued that it was not an acceptable practice to write a text claiming to be a famous person (when you were someone else).  In the modern world we call that a "forgery"; I argued that in the ancient world they also used negative terms for it and consistently disparaged the practice (contrary to what you often hear).      After my talk, James happened to be sitting across from me, and he suggested that one could write a (Paul Simon imitation) song "Fifty Ways to Forge a Gospel."  I laughed and didn't think he was serious.  He was.  And he did.  And now he's not [...]

2021-04-15T14:43:11-04:00April 14th, 2021|Public Forum|

Was Marcion a Gnostic?

A number of readers have asked the same question based on my posts on Marcion:  Was Marcion a Gnostic?   Here’s one reader’s way of asking it, and my response. QUESTION: Marcion’s “previously unknown God” of Jesus vs Israel’s creator sounds a bit like some of the gnostic beliefs, particularly Jesus coming from the realm of Barbelo in the gospel of Judas. Was Marion an early Christian Gnostic? RESPONSE: Marcion was sometimes considered a Gnostic by ancient heresiologists (“heresy-hunters”), such as Irenaeus; and in modern times scholars used to consider him a Gnostic, or at least Gnostic-like.  And one can see why.  Like Gnostics, Marcion had more than one God, the Creator was not good, and part of the goal of the religion was to escape his clutches.  But there are a lot more differences than similarities between them; the differences are so numerous and deep, that scholars simply don’t think of Marcion as a Gnostic these days. Was Marcion a Gnostic? I won’t review Marcion’s teachings at length here: for more information see these earlier [...]

2022-06-28T00:16:40-04:00April 13th, 2021|Early Christian Doctrine, Heresy and Orthodoxy|

The Earliest Views of the Trinity (Long after the New Testament)

In the previous post we saw how two important church fathers attacked the “modalist” view of the relationship between God the Father, God the Son, and God the Spirit, which claimed they were *one* person who relates to creation and humans in three different ways, with three modes of existence.  God is both the Father of the Son and the Son of the Father. Depending on how old you are, you may remember the song, “I’m My Own Grandpa.”  (If not, look it up; it’s a scream.)  As in the song, it gets confusing. This modalist view came to be rejected by the likes of Hippolytus of Rome and Tertullian of Carthage.  But what did they put in its place?  How did *they* understand the relationship of Father, Son, and Spirit, if they wanted to insist that all three were God but there was only one God? Enter the doctrine of the Trinity.  These relatively early thinkers did not have the fully developed view of the Trinity that came later, as we will see.  But [...]

2021-03-24T17:59:38-04:00April 11th, 2021|Early Christian Doctrine, Heresy and Orthodoxy|

How Can the Father and the Son Be the SAME? Can Your Father Also Be Your Son?

In my previous post I summarized the view that God the Father and God the Son and God the Spirit were actually one and the same – that they were three ways of God relating to the creation and the people who inhabit it – just as I am only one person but am both a father and a son and a brother, depending on whom I am relating to.  That view has been given various names among historians of theology; here I am calling it “modalist” – God is one person who has three different modes of existence and ways of relating. Here I continue by discussing how the view came to be attacked by others.  Again, this is based on the fuller discussion in my book How Jesus Became God. The attackers were fighting an uphill battle.  As we have seen that the view was widely accepted at the end of the second and beginning of the third, even though it came to be rejected as a heresy.  Two of the main opponents [...]

2021-03-24T17:54:27-04:00April 10th, 2021|Early Christian Doctrine, Heresy and Orthodoxy|

Are God and Christ the SAME Person?

In this thread on where the Trinity came from, I have been focusing on early Christology – the understandings of who Christ was.  My reason for that is simple.  The issue of the Trinity arose only because Christians said more than one being was God but that there was only one God.  The “other” being at the outset, of course, was Christ.  After his death his followers called him God.  The Trinity doctrine, as I will now start to explain in greater detail, emerged by the problems that then arose: two beings who are God, but only one God. I will be getting to the Spirit later, but frankly there is not as much to say there. First I need to keep going on the idea of Jesus being God and God being God.  The question that naturally arose among the Christians was how that could be the case: how could *BOTH* of them be God?  In what sense? That’s an issue I dealt with in my book How Jesus Became God.  Here I’ll provide some of [...]

The Importance of What Is Lost: Paul’s Letters

In a previous post I began to answer the question of which lost books of early Christianity I would most like to have discovered, and I started my answer with the earliest writings of which we are familiar, the letters of Paul, most of which (presumably) have been lost.  I would love for us to find some of them.  I doubt if we ever will, but who knows?  Maybe someone will announce that one is to be published later this year! Seriously, we would all love to have more letters from Paul, and not merely for sentimental reasons (Oh, wouldn’t that be *nice*?).  Paul is without a doubt the most important figure in the Christian tradition next to Jesus himself.  His writings have served as a basis for Christian ethical and theological thought for centuries.  And yet we know so little about what he thought and taught. When people read Paul’s letters, they frequently neglect to realize that these are all “occasional” writings.  By that I do not mean that Paul occasionally wrote letters, but [...]

2021-03-24T17:41:48-04:00April 7th, 2021|Paul and His Letters, Reader’s Questions|

When Belief Dies Guest Post by Sam Devis!

My previous post was an interview with Sam Devis for his podcast "When Belief Dies."  Sam is an active volunteer on the blog and has an interesting background.  I thought it would be interesting to have him write up an explanation of why he does this podcast, where it comes from, and how he personally relates to it.  As you can no doubt guess, he is indeed one for whom belief has died. Here is what he has to say: Sam Devis: When Belief Dies Bart has asked me to share a bit of my story in the hope that it casts a useful light on what I post on my blog, and why I started my podcast ‘When Belief Dies’.  Essentially, I want to have honest conversations on faith, religion, and life. It kind of seems ironic to me that I am going to do this, as I am not sure I know ‘who I am’ most of the time. I will do my best to tell my story well. I was raised in [...]

2022-05-26T19:43:10-04:00April 6th, 2021|Public Forum|

Did the Disciples See Jesus Raised from the Dead?

On this Easter Sunday I would like to explain what I think led to the belief that Jesus was raised from the dead.  A lot of readers over the years have not liked my answer (readers on wide ends of the spectrum):  I think some (a few) of the disciples had visions of Jesus.  That is, they saw him, or thought they saw him -- which for them would have been the same thing. I dealt with the matter in my book God's Problem, and responded to a question on the blog about it a long time ago.  Here it is.   QUESTION: I am reading How Jesus Became God and would like to comment on some of the content of Chapter 5. To that point in the book, it seems to me you have been very careful to avoid speculation, but it seems to me that the application of your usual standards may have lapsed somewhat in regard to the visions of Jesus after the crucifixion. Specifically, what evidence do we have, apart from [...]

2021-03-24T17:25:15-04:00April 4th, 2021|Book Discussions, Historical Jesus|

How The Afterlife Changed After Jesus’ Life

Easter celebrates the greatest irony of the Christian religion:  those who worship Jesus do not believe what he taught but what his followers taught about him after his death.  That is especially true about one key question the Christian faith addresses: what does it mean to be saved after we die?  Around the world today, billions of Christians believe that Jesus died and then on Easter, was raised from the dead and taken up to heaven to live with God.  As a corollary, they believe that when they die, they too will go to live with God.  That is not at all what Jesus thought. Jesus did not believe a person’s soul would live on after death, either to experience bliss in the presence of God above, or to be tormented for sins in the fires of hell below.  Jesus did not believe the soul would go anywhere after death.  As a Jew of the first century he did not think the soul could exist outside the body. Christians two thousand years later do not [...]

2021-03-24T17:21:03-04:00April 3rd, 2021|Early Christian Doctrine, Historical Jesus|

A Probing Interview on “When Belief Dies Podcast”

One of the readers for the audio versions of my daily blog posts is Sam Devis, who also runs a podcast called "When Belief Dies," dealing with lots of intriguing issues connected with "faith, religion, and life."  Check out the podcast site ( ; he's had some terrific guests on, and is an extremely thoughtful interviewer. Sam asked me to do an interview, and I thought that the questions and issues were particularly penetrating.  See what you think.  Here it is.

2021-04-01T11:35:22-04:00April 1st, 2021|Bart’s Biography, Public Forum|
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