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Some Evidence that Cephas and Peter WERE Two Different People

In my previous post I gave the evidence that in the early church there were writers who maintained that Cephas and Peter were *not* the same person, despite what is explicitly said in John 1:42.  As some readers have noted to me, later authors *may* have differentiated between the two (saying they were not the same person, even though they were) for a very clear and certain reason: in Galatians 2 Paul confronts “Cephas” and blasts him for not understanding the Gospel.  Could there have been a major rift between the two most important apostles of early Christianity (Paul and *Peter*)?  Surely the apostles were more unified than *that*!  Well, if Cephas was not the same person as Peter, it is a much, much smaller problem.  So maybe that is what was driving early Christians to claim there were in fact two figures, the apostle Peter and the other person Cephas. That post came from a scholarly article I wrote on the topic many years ago.  I’ve decided not to give the entire article here [...]

2021-07-20T13:30:59-04:00July 31st, 2021|Paul and His Letters, Reflections and Ruminations|

Congratulations Fredrick Ackun!

The voting is in on the Platinum guest posts.  Among four options, one is to be published on the blog itself for all members.  I'm pleased to announce that the winning post is the Essence of Religious Literacy: A Christian Perspective. Guest Post by Fredrick Ackun.  The post will appear on August 16, if all goes to plan. I have to say it was an extraordinarily close vote.  We had four outstanding choices and only one could win.  But thanks to all four posters.  And, you the Platinum member, may yourself be interested in reading (again!) these outstanding offerings.  Here they are, once more:   Feb 11: The Essence of Religious Literacy: A Christian Perspective. Platinum Guest Post by Fredrick Ackun   Feb 20: A Christian Is Not Necessarily a Disciple (Monthly Platinum Post: Douglas Wadeson)   Feb 23: The Buddhist Scriptures and the Gospel of Luke: Platinum Post by Steve Sutter   Mar 2: Christian Attitudes toward War, Through the Ages: Platinum Post by Dan Kohanski   In a week or so we will vote on the next four [...]

2021-07-30T14:58:32-04:00July 30th, 2021|Public Forum|

Jesus Healing the Paralyzed. How Do We Explain the Stories? Platinum Guest Post by Douglas Wadeson, MD

This week's Platinum Guest Post (for and by Platinum members only!) is again by Doug Wadeson, M.D.; it is the second of four dealing with Jesus' healing miracles in light of modern medicine.   I find this one especially interesting.  How do explain these stories in the Gospels?  Here are some options. ****************************** In the previous post I discussed how demon possession may have been assumed in cases of neuropsychiatric disease, and how Jesus could have achieved apparent cures of such disorders.  Another type of neurologic disorder we see in the Gospels is paralysis, or some sort of crippling disease.  One of the earliest miracles in Mark is such a healing.  In Mark 2 we read of Jesus teaching in a house when four men bring a paralyzed man, but the house is so crowded that they have to dig a hole in the roof and lower the man on a pallet in front of Jesus.  Jesus first tells the man that his sins are forgiven.  This upsets the scribes present, who see this as blasphemy.  [...]

2021-07-29T07:28:50-04:00July 29th, 2021|Canonical Gospels, Historical Jesus|

Were Cephas and Peter Two Different People? A Blast from the Past

Five years ago on the blog I started a thread that I never quite finished, for reasons long forgotten, but I sometimes get asked about it.  It involved an issue that the vast majority of avid Bible readers -- including professional scholars -- have never even considered.  I staked out a position on the issue and then later indicated that I was not completely satisfied with my answer.  My plan had been to explain my doubts more fully, but for some odd reason I never posted the explanation.  So let's consider it a five-year cliff-hanger.  Even today, I haven't decided! I've decided to repeat the three relevant posts from 2016, and then go ahead and try to complete the thread.  Here's the first.   QUESTION: I remember your saying that you once – wrongly – entertained a theory about “Cephas” and “Peter” being two different people. I *don’t* remember your explaining why you’d thought that, and what convinced you the theory was wrong. I’d still like to know!   RESPONSE: I get asked this question [...]

Bruce Metzger and the “Favor” He Did Me On My PhD Exams

I have been posting some reminiscences of my relationship with my mentor, Bruce Metzger, one of the great New Testament textual scholars of the twentieth century.  Here I talk about one of my direct involvements with him as his student. Metzger directed my PhD exams, and was responsible for writing the questions for one of them.  To explain that situation requires a good bit of background. In a typical PhD program, at the end of two years of taking seminars (usually three a semester, for four semesters), a student takes the PhD exams.  These go by different names: “Comprehensive exams” (that’s what we called them at Princeton Seminary); “Preliminary Exams” (i.e. preliminary to writing a dissertation); “Qualifying exams” (i.e. that qualify you to move on to the dissertation stage) – all of these refer to the same battery of exams.  In most respects the way it was set up at Princeton was fairly typical – it is the way we also have it set up in the PhD program that I teach in at UNC.  [...]

2021-07-13T05:20:42-04:00July 28th, 2021|Bart’s Biography, Reflections and Ruminations|

Understanding the Apocalypse as an “Apocalypse”

  In two previous posts I talked about the "genre" of the book of Revelation (see  and ).  Now I can give a brief description of how the book of Revelation functions as an apocalypse – that is, how the features of the genre, that I’ve already mentioned, work themselves out in the narrative of the book.  Again, this is taken from my textbook on the New Testament (Oxford University Press; 7th edition 2020). ****************************** In general terms, Revelation corresponds to the basic description of apocalypses that I have given.  It is a first-hand account written by a prophet who has been shown a vision of heaven that explains the realities of earth, a vision that is mediated by angels and that is chock-full of bizarre and mysterious symbolism.  The nature of the book is indicated at the outset, in the magnificent vision of the exalted Christ that the prophet describes in ch. 1.  Here Christ appears as "one like a Son of Man" (cf. Dan 7:13-14, where the phrase describes the cosmic judge [...]

2021-07-14T20:06:50-04:00July 27th, 2021|Christianity in the Classroom, Revelation of John|

Returning to the Whore of Babylon

In this thread I have been discussing the importance of putting the book of Revelation in its own historical context instead of transplanting its (bizarre) symbols and message into the 21st century, as if the author was trying to communicate not with the churches that he actually names as the recipients of his book (in Asia Minor at the end of the first century) but with us (in America in the twenty-first).  Instead of modern interpretations (666 is Saddam Hussein!  The Whore of Babylon is the Roman Catholic Church!), surely it is better to interpret the book in light of what the author and his audience would have themselves understood. That can be illustrated many times over from the book; for this post I would like to do so by returning to one of the key images that I have posted about several times before.  Apologies if this is old news for you from a relatively recent post, but to make my point about the book of Revelation as a whole, this is the most relevant and [...]

2021-07-13T04:43:40-04:00July 25th, 2021|Revelation of John|

Nazis and the Meaning of the Word “Jew”: Guest Post by Jason Staples

I am very pleased to announce that the book of my former student, Jason Staples, The Idea of Israel in Second-Temple Judaism, has just appeared from Cambridge University Press.  Jason did his PhD here at UNC and this is part of his dissertation.  I say "part" because the dissertation was large, and he has divided it into two separate monographs; the second will be dealing with how the term "Israel" is used in the writings of Paul -- in particular, what Paul might mean when he says "All Israel will be saved" (Rom. 11:26) -- an unusually thorny statement that has generated a huge amount of research and opinion over the years (all the usual and fairly commonsense explanations are problematic, for one compelling reason or another).  Jason thinks he has found the solution.  That will be volume 2! Here he presents for us one of the issues he address in vol. 1, related to the overall topic of the book.  Short question: what is the difference in the ancient world between talking about "Israel" [...]

2021-07-25T13:34:06-04:00July 24th, 2021|Public Forum|

Is Revelation Describing Warfare in the Twenty-first Century??

I have been arguing that if we want to understand the book of Revelation, we need to situate it in its own historical context in the Roman Empire of the first century rather than assume it is talking about our own world in the twenty-first.  Very few people read it that way, of course (or are interested in reading it that way).   It's far more intriguing to think the author was predicting what would happen in our own future.  It's ALL COMING TRUE!  God has REVEALED IT TO US!  We can NOW SEE THE SIGNS OF THE END! But, alas, like every other book of the Bible, Revelation was written to address an ancient audience in a different context, and its bizarre symbols need to be read with their own context front and center in mind.   Here is how I sometimes try to illustrate the problem. (Parts of this are taken from my book The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings; Oxford University Press; 7th ed.) ****************************** One of the most [...]

2021-07-12T21:11:28-04:00July 22nd, 2021|Revelation of John|

Problems with Comments on Revelation!

A lot of terrific comments have come in on James Tabor's posts on Revelation.  I'm afraid we've been having technical difficulties on the blog in making it possible for him to reply to them.  But we think we have it worked out now (long story; I won't bore you with it).   So hopefully responses will be coming.  He will not be able to reply to all of the comments, but will take on some, and we will make sure that all of them, whether replied to or not, are published!  Thanks for your patience.   The difficulty is about to be resolved.  It is "coming soon"!

2021-07-21T13:47:34-04:00July 21st, 2021|Public Forum|

An Interview about Heaven and Hell: American Freethought Podcast

Here is an interview I did about a year ago on the American Freethought Podcast, hosted by John C. Snider.  The focus was on my book on heaven and hell.  Among other things it deals with key questions such as whether the Bible clearly teaches that humans have eternal souls (hey, what else could be goin' on inside me otherwise?) and that heaven and hell are literal realities.    

2021-07-12T07:05:41-04:00July 21st, 2021|Book Discussions, Public Forum, Video Media|

Jesus the Healer: Those Darn Demons. Platinum guest post by Douglas Wadeson MD

I'm pleased to be able to begin publishing short thread of posts for Platinum members only, focused on Jesus as a healer.  Our guest poster is Doug Wadeson, himself a medical doctor with (obviously) a lifelong interest in healing but also a keen interest in the historical study of the NT Gospels.  In this series he combines these two interests and provides some some unusually interesting reflections. This is one of the perks of being a Platinum member.  You can read -- and more important, WRITE! -- posts for other Platinum members.  I can can post up to one a week, and there is plenty of room in the queue for you!  Want to give it a shot?  Your post can be on any topic of relevance to the blog and I'm happy to preview for you if you would like.  Once it is posted, you can then get feedback from Platinum members.  Hey, Express Yourself!  You have ideas and thoughts.  Get them out there!  If you're interested, let me know. Here now is Doug's [...]

2021-07-20T12:52:26-04:00July 20th, 2021|Canonical Gospels, Historical Jesus|

Is the Book of Revelation a Revised Version of a Non-Christian Apocalypse? Guest Post by James Tabor

Here now is the second guest post by my friend and cross-state colleague, New Testament scholar James Tabor.  Other scholars have suggested Revelation started out as a Jewish text that was later "Christianized" by an editor who produced the version we have today.  Here James embraces that view and mounts an argument for it.  See what you think! James originally posted this on his own blog.  Check it out! Can A Pre-Christian Version of the Book of Revelation Be Recovered? Can A Pre-Christian Version of the Book of Revelation Be Recovered? APOCALYPTICISM  FEBRUARY 22, 2017 The thesis of this post is a simple one. Behind the New Testament book of Revelation, formally called “The Revelation of Jesus Christ,” (Rev 1:1), is an older Jewish apocalyptic document that had nothing to do with Jesus or the early Christian movement. The question is, can such a older text be recovered, given the overtly Christian editing? In my post titled “The Destruction of Pompeii and the New Testament Book of Revelation,” on the destruction of Pompeii by the volcanic eruption [...]

2021-07-26T18:39:32-04:00July 20th, 2021|Revelation of John|

Interested in Hearing Three of My Lectures? Jesus according to the Early Christians

Two months ago I did a three-part lecture series on Zoom as a fundraiser to help defray the expenses of the blog.  I recorded the lectures and have now decided to make them available -- still as a fundraiser -- to anyone who would wants to hear them.  For details how to get access to them, see further below. The lectures all discussed stories involving Jesus that are not widely known to the world at large.  Or to *Christians* at large.  Or to *Blog Members* at large.   I'm pretty sure you didn't hear *these* growing up....  Want to hear them?  These  are the titles and topics:   Lecture One.  Jesus and the Other Divine Men Jesus may be the only miracle-working Son of God people know about today, but in antiquity there were others – “Divine men” who were miraculously born, who could do miracles, and then, at the end of life, ascended to heaven to live with the gods.  How could anyone think such things of mere mortals?  And is there anything that makes [...]

2021-07-12T21:02:25-04:00July 18th, 2021|Public Forum|

The Historical Background to the Book of Revelation

Now that I have said something about what's in the book of Revelation and about how we need to study it in light of its literary *genre* ("apocalypse") I can begin to discuss something about its historical context.  As you know, one of the overarching themes of this entire blog is that if you take something out of its context, you change its meaning.  If you want to know what the author of Revelation might have actually meant and how he would have been understood by his real-life audience -- the Christians in the seven churches of Asia Minor he was addressing - you have to put the book and its author in their own historical context (not in our 21st century context). Here are some of the most important points about that, as I make them in my textbook on the New Testament (The New Testament: A Historical and Literary Introduction;  Oxford University Press, 7th ed.), edited slightly here.   ********************************************** The Revelation of John in Historical Context I have already pointed out that [...]

2021-07-03T03:18:39-04:00July 17th, 2021|Revelation of John|

Does Revelation Contain an Eyewitness Account of the Eruption of Mount Vesuvius? Guest Post by James Tabor

As I continue to work on my book on Revelation, I thought it might be interesting to ask my friend and fellow NT scholar, James Tabor, who has done guest posts before on the blog, to provide a couple more.  James has written and thought about Revelation for many years, and he has intriguing and controversial views about it.  He will be providing two posts for us.  In this one he argues that part of the book of Revelation is based on an eyewitness report of the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 CE, which the author understood to be an indication that the end of time had now come.   Intriguing stuff.This was first posted on James's own blog.  Be sure to check it out: The Destruction of Pompeii and the New Testament Book of Revelation APOCALYPTICISM  DECEMBER 20, 2015 Nine years, almost to the day, after Roman legionaries destroyed God’s house in Jerusalem, God destroyed the luxurious watering holes of the Roman elite. Was this God’s revenge? That’s not exactly the question I want [...]

2021-07-15T08:41:10-04:00July 15th, 2021|Revelation of John|

Comments on Blog Comments!

In this post I would like to address some questions I have received about blog “comments” and in so doing reaffirm the blog’s policies and procedures. As all of you know, blog members at the Silver, Gold, or Platinum level are allowed to make comments on posts and respond to comments of others.  The limit is 200 words for a comment and only two per day are allowed.  These limits are designed to help commenters keep their remarks direct and on point, and to make the entire enterprise manageable for the one person who manages them (yours truly). A lot of the comments the posts invoke involve a question for me and I try to respond to each and every one.   Since we began the blog in 2012 we have had over 112,000 comments and I have written some 37,000 responses.  Ouch. Most of the time, commenters give a remark or reflection on a particular post.  You can ALWAYS do so on an old post, no problem.  I’ll post it/answer it no matter how old [...]

2021-07-01T20:17:39-04:00July 14th, 2021|Public Forum|

Prophecies and Saints in the Book of Daniel. Platinum Guest Post by Daniel Kohanski

I am very pleased to post this interesting and informed post by Platinum member Daniel Kohanski, on one of the most intriguing books of the entire Bible -- and as he points out, one of the most frequently misunderstood, especially today.  This post is for Platinum Members Only.  Feel free to comment and query! ****************************** The book of Daniel is one of the most influential, probably the most controversial, and certainly the most incomprehensible book of the Hebrew Bible. It is particularly famous for two things. It culminates in the only explicit expectation of personal resurrection in Scripture, and it uses a combination of mystical passages and obscure calculations to make that expectation credible. The intention was to convince the reader that Daniel (or an angel telling Daniel) had accurately predicted events hundreds of years in advance. In fact, all of them but the death of Antiochus and the promised resurrection had already happened by the time the author sat down to finish this book--because he was using a technique known to scholarship as vaticinium [...]

2021-07-16T16:11:20-04:00July 13th, 2021|Hebrew Bible/Old Testament|

Understanding Revelation: A Sine Qua Non (Overlooked by most readers)

I am at the beginning of my thread on the book of Revelation, and am giving the background necessary to make sense of how I now make sense of the book, which is different from how I've made sense of it most of my life!  But one thing I wholeheartedly agree with myself on from earlier days: you HAVE to understand the book in its own historical context or you will completely misconstrue its meaning -- as almost everyone does, since they think it is a book written for the 21st century instead of the 1st.  That's a big mistake if you have any interest in what an author of the 1st century was saying to his audience of the 1st century.  You have to understand the literary conventions and historical realities of their time.  Seems obvious, but, well, I guess it's not to most readers.... In my previous post I began to stress the importance of knowing what an “apocalypse” is before trying to interpret any one particular apocalypse.  Today I pursue that a [...]

2021-07-27T11:37:04-04:00July 13th, 2021|Revelation of John|
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