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How Becoming an Agnostic Affected My Personal Life

I was just now looking through some old posts on the blog (there are lots of them!  If you join, you have full access!), and came upon this one from almost exactly four years ago.  It involves a question I get asked a lot by people who have left the faith or find themselves moving in that direction.  It involves how my relationships with others changed as I went from being a very conservative evangelical Christian to becoming an agnostic/atheist. My answer today would be the same....   QUESTION Would you be willing to elaborate on how your changing views affected your relationships with friends and family and how people reacted to your changing perspective? Thanks so much!   RESPONSE As it turns out, in my case, the biggest “problem” for my relationships with family and friends was not so much when I became an agnostic, over twenty years ago now, but when I left the evangelical beliefs I had held as a young adult to become a “liberal” Christian with critical views of the [...]

2021-09-06T20:19:06-04:00September 22nd, 2021|Bart’s Biography|

Working as a Secretary for the New Revised Standard Version

Here I continue with some reminiscences of my work with my mentor Bruce Metzger. ****************************** When I was still a graduate student in the PhD program at Princeton Theological Seminary, Metzger invited me to serve as a secretary for the committee that was producing the new revision of the Revised Standard Version translation of the Bible. The RSV (on which the new translation was to be based) had come out in 1952, and it had caused a huge furor at the time. It was an “official” revision of the King James Bible, that was supposed to update the language (English has changed a lot since 1611), to take into consideration new manuscript discoveries (especially important for the New Testament, since the KJV was based on only a few medieval manuscripts that were not of very high quality; hundreds of better ones had since been discovered, and to incorporate the findings of modern Biblical scholarship). The RSV of 1952 was an “official” translation because it was authorized by the National Council of Churches in the U.S. [...]

2021-09-16T10:22:40-04:00September 16th, 2021|Bart’s Biography, History of Biblical Scholarship|

More On Bruce Metzger and Me: How I Got Interested in my Dissertation Topic

THIS POST RESUMES MY RECOLLECTIONS OF MY INTERACTIONS WITH BRUCE METZGER, MY MENTOR.  Remember: when I say "textual criticism" in this post, I am NOT referring simply to the "study of texts."  Textual criticism is the technical term used by scholars (in all fields) to refer to how we establish what an author wrote if we don't have his/her original writing itself.  For the New Testament that involves studying ancient Greek manuscripts and other sources; since all the surviving sources word the NT in different ways -- usually completely insignificant ways, but sometimes important -- we need to figure out what the "originals" said and how scribes changed them.  That's "textual criticism." ****************************** When I entered my PhD program at Princeton Theological Seminary, I knew already that I wanted to specialize in the study of the Greek manuscript tradition of the New Testament. As I indicated in my earlier posts, that’s why I went there, because Metzger was the country’s leading expert in this field, and one could argue the leading expert in the world [...]

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|

Metzger, the Squirrel, and Me (…and Jesus).

In my previous post I talked about the locally famous story about (my teacher) Bruce Metzger and the dead (dying?) squirrel.  Here I continue the story to show why in fact is has some relevance to the New Testament! As I indicated, for years friends of mine were eager for me to find out whether the story about Metzger and the squirrel really happened.  They wanted me just to ask Metzger.  But there were problems with that.  Among other things, if it had happened, he almost certainly wouldn’t remember, since it would have simply been something that happened with no significance to him – only to the one who thought it was very odd that Metzger would happen to know the Greek word for squirrel and that he would volunteer it at that rather inauspicious moment. Moreover, there were aspects of the story that did not “ring true.”  Metzger was not heartless toward other living beings and he was not one to boast about his knowledge about Greek -- or about anything else.  Years later [...]

Memories of Bruce Metzger: When I First Realized I Couldn’t Write

In my last post I started to resume my recollections of my mentor, the great textual scholar Bruce Metzger.   In this post I recall when he first showed me I was a lousy writer. In graduate school different professors have different approaches to evaluating and grading term papers. Some professors are completely anal about it and insist on correcting every mistake, rewriting every sentence, and reformulating every idea.  Not many are that way, thankfully, since doing all this takes an enormous chunk of time (and a very large ego).  I never had a professor like that, but I have known some over the years.  Others make extremely judicious and helpful comments, sometimes at great length.  My teacher Paul Meyer was like that at Princeton Seminary.  The comments he made on our papers were in depth, always on target, and superior in quality to any of the scholarship we read all semester in the class.  Meyer never published much himself – he threw himself into his students instead; we used to threaten to extract his comments [...]

2021-06-21T17:30:31-04:00July 4th, 2021|Bart’s Biography, Reflections and Ruminations|

My Mentor Bruce Metzger

Many years ago on the blog I was asked about my relationship with my mentor Bruce Metzger, an internationally famous scholar of the New Testament who is generally acknowledged as the greatest expert on biblical manuscripts in America, ever.  He was also a devout Christian, an ordained Presbyterian minister.  I, obviously, am not.  (Though I was very much a committed Christian when I first met him.)  Here is the question and my initial response.   QUESTION: Hey Bart, I know you studied under Bruce Metzger and my question is how did he feel about your skepticism toward the trustworthiness of the N.T?   RESPONSE: Bruce Metzger and I had a long and very close relationship.  I was his student for seven years and his research assistant for the New Revised Standard Version (he was the chair of the translation committee) for a couple of years.  He directed my masters and PhD theses; he helped me break into publishing; he worked to get me into editorial positions for journals and monograph series; he guided my research [...]

2021-06-21T17:25:55-04:00July 3rd, 2021|Bart’s Biography, Reflections and Ruminations|

Why I Wrote my book Did Jesus Exist? Interview with Evangelical Scholar Ben Witherington

Ever since I started publishing books for non-scholars,  I've been attacked by evangelical Christians for my views of the Bible.  Then, somewhat ironically, about nine years ago I came under attack by the nemeses of evangelical Christians, the "mythicists," who claim that Jesus never existed.  And why did they attack me?  For my views of the Bible.  Isn't life marvelous? In 2012 published a book arguing that whatever else you say about him, Jesus certainly existed.  It drove some of the mythicists to distraction.  What was I thinking?   I didn't agree with them!  Traitor! Oh boy I didn't agree with them.  And on this point, at least, some evangelicals came to love me.  One of the leading New Testament scholars in the evangelical community is Ben Witherington, with whom I've been on friendly terms for a very long time.  Ben also has a blog, quite different from mine.  Soon after the book was published, Ben asked if he could do a multi-part series with me on the book that both of us could post on [...]

2021-06-10T20:04:39-04:00June 16th, 2021|Bart’s Biography, Book Discussions, 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 (https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/when-belief-dies/id1516058806) ; 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|

One of the Weird Events in My Life that Led Me To Be A Research Scholar

Everyone has significant events that shape their lives and lots of people have rather strange ones.  This morning I was thinking of three weird events that contributed to my becoming a research scholar.  They all happened over a four-year period, from ages 14-17.  There were: getting bored with 9th grade Latin; getting hepatitis; and going to a fundamentalist Bible college. First, the Latin.  In grade school we all took Spanish.  I wasn’t any good at it and I didn’t much like it.  I had no particular interest in languages, at all.  Then in 9th grade we had to take a language and the choices, as I recall, were Spanish, German, French, and Latin.  I was the kind of kid who liked to do things differently from everyone else; most kids were heading to Spanish, but I knew I didn’t do well there.  German and French – kind of the same thing, modern languages I wasn’t interested in.  I thought, well, Latin’s a bit unusual: maybe I’ll do that. I rather enjoyed it, but as it [...]

2021-02-03T14:47:19-05:00February 13th, 2021|Bart’s Biography, Public Forum|

Personal Post: My Work Habits

Blog members sometimes ask me about my work habits:  I seem to get a lot of writing done in addition to the day job as a university professor and doing the blog and what not.  How’s that happen exactly?  I should say that it’s not happenin’ too well right now: start of classes – teaching 240 students remotely! – and lots of other things--I ain’t getting twit done on my research…. But normally I do try to pack it in.  And how?  My usual answer is that I don’t watch a lot of TV.  And that’s certainly true.  I do watch the news sometimes – I did a lot more, e.g., in election season; but I find televised news both problematic and inefficient, if what you really want is *news*.  It’s problematic because most news shows these days do not demarcate between information and opinion (it’s impossible to do that completely, of course; but sometimes you really do just want to know facts); it’s inefficient because the amount of news you can get in an [...]

2021-02-04T19:12:24-05:00February 6th, 2021|Bart’s Biography|

How Do We Know What Christians Thought about Jesus BEFORE the New Testament?

Yesterday I posted the first in what will be a series of reflections on the earliest Christian Christologies (understandings of Christ).  I began to outline what I take to be the earliest Christology of all. Jesus and his followers, I maintained, saw him(self) as a man and nothing more than a man (who was a great teacher, a prophet, and the future messiah of the coming kingdom – but human through and through, nothing else). But once these followers came to believe that he had been raised from the dead, they altered their view to begin to think that God had exalted him to heaven and made him his specially anointed one, his Son, who would indeed be the future messiah and who would bring in that Kingdom himself when he returned from heaven as the Son of Man. And so, why do I think that this Christological view – that God made Jesus his Son at the resurrection, the one who reigns *now* (and so is already the “ruler” or the “anointed one” or [...]

2021-01-18T09:54:44-05:00January 28th, 2021|Bart’s Biography, History of Biblical Scholarship|

The God Jesus, In Competition

I have started what will almost certainly be a long thread on where the idea of the Trinity came from within the Christian tradition.   In plotting out the thread I saw right away that the very BIG issue is not really about the “three” (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) but about the “two”:   God and Christ.   This was the matter Christians debated for centuries, with the Spirit being (by far) a less central figure.  The very major problem early Christians confronted was that they were monotheists who believed in only one God but they also thought Jesus was God.  And they did not think that he was the same being as his Father.  So God was God and Christ was God but there was only one God.  How can that be?  Answering that question will eventually get you to the doctrine of the Trinity. To explain it I will need to go into some length on the issue of Jewish monotheism, and what it meant (especially in a world where everyone else was a polytheist), [...]

Human Suffering and the Christian Faith

I've started a short thread on the issue of how the problem of suffering affected my Christian faith.  To explain the matter further, here I quote from a section of my book God's Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer our Most Important Question:  Why We Suffer.   The book is mainly about the variety of answers you can find in the Bible about why God allows or even causes suffering.  But I begin the book by talking about why it has long been such an important issue to me personally. ****************************** Eventually I felt compelled to leave Christianity.  I did not go easily.  On the contrary, I left kicking and screaming, wanting desperately to hold on to the faith I had known from childhood and had come to know intimately from my teenage years onward.  But I came to a point where I could no longer believe.  It’s a very long story, but the short version is this: I realized that I could no long reconcile the claims of faith with the facts of life.  In [...]

2020-11-30T12:20:39-05:00December 6th, 2020|Bart’s Biography, Reflections and Ruminations|

On Ignorant Critics…

Sometimes people say the most ridiculous things.  Especially when they want to argue against you.  It’s amazing what people can dream up.  And not just in politics – just in everyday life.   You no doubt have noticed yourself…    I want to talk about an instance of this which, for me, gets particularly bizarre near the end of this post. You probably have this experience too.  People who don’t know me say all sorts of things that just make me scratch my head.  WHAT???  Interestingly, given my situation, I get vitriol mainly from two sides, which stand at polar opposites from one another.  On one side are some fundamentalists/very conservative evangelicals who think I am out to destroy the faith (that side is understandable; at least I myself understand it, having once been a fundamentalist/very conservative evangelical who said nasty things about liberal scholars whom I thought were out to destroy the faith :-) ) and the other are some “mythicists” – the ones who think that there never was a historical man, Jesus, but [...]

2020-11-15T17:47:37-05:00November 20th, 2020|Bart's Critics, Bart’s Biography|

How Hard It is To Become an Agnostic….

When the new blog site launched a week ago I decided to start off with five of my favorite posts from each of the first five years of the blog.  And then someone asked me: why just the first five?  Why not the more recent four?  And I replied:  I don’t know – I didn’t think about it!   But now I have and have decided: why not? So here is number six of five favorite posts, this one from 2017.  It’s more of a personal topic, but it’s one that I know a lot of you can resonate with: the struggle involved in moving from being a person of faith to becoming an agnostic. ****************************** I started feeling the tug toward agnosticism sometime during my Ph.D. program.  I remember clearly a particular moment, and it was, somewhat ironically, while I was serving as the pastor of the Princeton Baptist Church. Even though I was incredibly busy at the time (I was taking a full load of graduate seminars, preparing to take my PhD exams, serving [...]

2020-10-30T21:29:45-04:00October 29th, 2020|Bart’s Biography, Reflections and Ruminations|

The Tragedy Behind My Teaching Position

A few weeks ago I mentioned how the first teaching position I received was a matter of pure serendipity, and tragedy.  I had been in the job market for a couple of years, couldn’t get a nibble for a job, and out of the blue one opened up: a professor of New Testament at Rutgers, just a half hour from Princeton where I was still finishing my PhD, had to take an emergency leave of absence because her husband was dying of cancer.  I was nearby, I was looking for a position, and they gave me an emergency appointment – I started teaching *her* classes, using her syllabi, and her textbooks, and so on, half way through the semester, right after the midterm.  That wasn’t easy, but oh boy was I glad to get something.  She ended up retiring, and I had one-year appointments at Rutgers for the next four years, as I continued, to no avail, trying to find a permanent position, anywhere in the country. In 1988 I ended up getting a job [...]

2020-09-27T15:41:12-04:00September 27th, 2020|Bart’s Biography|

How I Do My Research

I often get asked how I go about doing my research for a book I'm writing, especially the scholarly ones.  One question people ask on occasion: do I take notes on what I read?  If so, how?  I dealt with the question on this date six years ago, in answer to a specific question.  I still follow the same system today.  Here is the question and my response! QUESTION: You’ve told us about reading book after book after book before you even begin writing a book. I’d appreciate your sharing a little info on how you take notes during all of this reading.  And how do you decide what to make notes on and what not to put into notes?   RESPONSE: Right – this is a very big issue for scholars in the Humanities, since what we do, for the most part, is read books and write books.  So knowing how to read books is very important.  In particular it is important because there are so *many* books to read (not to mention articles [...]

2020-09-03T17:30:51-04:00September 3rd, 2020|Bart’s Biography, Reader’s Questions|

The Flukes of Life and My Teaching Career

I've been concerned for the past months (among many other things, of course) about PhD's trying to get teaching positions in colleges and universities. Even when there is not an economy-busting pandemic, it's hard. Very hard. Many years ago when I was on the market, I had an awful time trying to find a job . Oddly enough, I see now, I posted on this very topic, on this very date during the first year of the blog (2012). Here's what I said then. *********************************************************************** My students are alternatively comforted and chagrined to learn how hard it was for me to get a teaching position. It makes them feel good that they are not alone, but bad that they too might have a hard time – even harder. I was on the job market while I was writing my dissertation.. And even though there were job openings, I couldn’t get an interview to save my soul. Part of the problem was that my PhD was from a theological seminary, and a lot of the jobs [...]

2020-08-21T18:06:17-04:00August 20th, 2020|Bart’s Biography, Reflections and Ruminations|
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