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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|

Getting a PhD in New Testament Studies

I was breezing through ancient blog posts this morning and came across this one from exactly eight years ago. It involves a question I get a lot (got it last week!), from people interested in doing graduate work in the field of New Testament or early Christianity. What is it like and what does it take? Here is what I said back then, which is pretty much what I would still say today! **************************************** I sometimes get asked what it takes to become a professional scholar in the field of New Testament/early Christian studies. The answer, in short, is the same as for any academic discipline. It takes years of intense training. My own training in the field of New Testament studies was nothing at all unusual, but rather was fairly typical for someone in the field. What is unusual is that I knew that I wanted to pursue this kind of study already when I was in college. I started taking courses in New Testament as a 17-year old. For my foreign language requirement [...]

A Powerful Film and Some Raw Emotions

As a rule I don’t watch a lot of films, but during the crisis Sarah and I have reinstated our weekly “movie night,” and on Friday we saw Ethan Hawke’s First Reformed.   Have you seen it?  I was very reluctant to do so for personal reasons. I thought it would hit to close to home. Oh boy was I right. I’ve always loved Ethan Hawke, from Dead Poet’s Society onward.  But this one was a bit hard. The movie itself is brilliant, extremely layered and thoughtful. Hawke plays the role of Rev. Toller, the pastor of a small, historic, but failing church in upstate New York.   But he is losing his faith and trying to makes sense of his religion, his world, and the meaning of life. The movie doesn’t hit you over the head with the options, but if you think about what you’ve just seen carefully enough, they are there. The backdrop to the story is that Rev. Toller is on his own, lives by himself, in a rectory connected with the church, [...]

2020-05-10T12:56:27-04:00May 10th, 2020|Bart’s Biography, Public Forum|

My Doubts about the Son of God: A Blast from the Past

Here's a post I made six years ago, when just starting to think about what I would do in my book How Jesus Became God, where I recount a rather emotional experience of starting to doubt my faith. ************************************************************************************************************ When I attended Moody Bible Institute in the mid 1970s, every student was required, every semester, to do some kind of Christian ministry work.   Like all of my fellow students I was completely untrained and unqualified to do the things I did, but I think Moody believed in on-the-job training.   And so every student had to have one semester where, for maybe 2-3 hours one afternoon a week, they would engage in “door-to-door evangelism.”  That involved being transported to some neighborhood in Chicago, knocking on doors, trying to strike up a conversation, get into the homes, and convert people.  A fundamentalist version of the Mormon missionary thing, also carried out two-by-two. One semester I was a late-night counselor on the Moody Christian radio station.  People would call up with questions about the Bible or with problems in [...]

2021-01-05T01:07:06-05:00March 16th, 2019|Bart’s Biography, Reflections and Ruminations|

Jesus and My First Girlfriend: A Blast From The Past

Breezing through some old posts today from nearly six years ago, and came across this interesting little anecdote.  I'd forgotten I had written about it.  A funny personal story about something that actually became important for me. *******************************************************************************   My first serious girlfriend was Lynn, whom I met when we were starting our sophomore year in high school.  She was funny, personable, attractive, intelligent, and Jewish.   I’m not sure I had ever known a Jewish person before her. I don’t recall that we ever talked about religion, and looking back I suppose it’s a bit surprising.   She and her family certainly weren’t observant Jews and my uninformed sense is that they were completely secular.  I don’t know if they went to synagogue or kept any of the holidays, but I kind-a doubt it.  In any event, at that point in my life religion wasn’t really my main concern when it came to a girlfriend. We were a hot item for months, and then at the end of my sophomore year, disaster struck.  Her mom got [...]

2020-04-03T01:30:03-04:00March 19th, 2018|Bart’s Biography, Reflections and Ruminations|

Managing the Time! Readers’ Mailbag December 17, 2017

In this weeks’ Readers’ Mailbag I will be dealing with a personal question, one that I get a good bit (twice this week!).   Here is how it came to me from one blog-member   QUESTION: You should once write an article on time management. Unless you sleep only 2 hours a day, I can’t imagine how you manage to publish lengthy posts, answer all comment questions every day, read lectures at the university(including all the academic responsibilities there: quizzes, exams etc.), read books/papers (both scholarly and others) and of course write them!  And that’s only the academic part of your life. That’s both amazing and mysterious!   RESPONSE: I have to admit, I have a lot of bad personality traits (just ask my wife!), but I have a couple of good ones too, at least ones that help me in my life.  For example, I’m an unusually good sleeper!  (8 hours a night, at least, and all of it solid.)  And without great effort I enjoy the many simple pleasures in my life (quality time [...]

2018-01-09T12:29:27-05:00December 17th, 2017|Bart’s Biography, Public Forum, Reader’s Questions|

The Apostolic Fathers: Serendipity Strikes

In my previous post I blasted from the past about my translation of the Apostolic Fathers for the Loeb Classsical Library.  That was actually the first of a few posts on the topic, and since I referred to the next ones, I thought I should give them -- at least the one that followed.  Here it is.  As I point out, in a way it's about how, in a concrete way, life is a series of chances..... ************************************************************** It seems that much that has happened in my professional life has been because of serendipity.  Back when I was a believer, we called it Providence.  (!)   It’s how I got my first job at Rutgers in 1984; how I got my current position at UNC in 1988; how I got asked to write something other than a technical study involving the Greek manuscript tradition of the New Testament – a textbook for undergraduates (in the early 1990s), and thus, in a sense, started my publishing career; how I had my first bestselling book (Misquoting Jesus) become [...]

Was My Weird Background a Help or a Hindrance: Mailbag October 22, 2017

In this week’s readers’ mailbag I deal with a personal question about my background and whether it gave me and advantages or disadvantages in my rather unusual line of work as a secular scholar of the Bible.   QUESTION:  Just as a matter of empirical fact, do you think that your religious background gave you any (intellectual) advantages, or disadvantages, in your work over someone who lacked that background?   RESPONSE: Every now and then I look back on my life and think:  Wow, now that was weird.  Even though I’m a pretty normal American guy in lots of ways – at least normal as an American guy who is a professional scholar (OK, that’s already weird, but it’s weird in a socially normal way) (my normalcies: I have passions for football, basketball, working out, reading novels and nonfiction, traveling, the outdoors, hiking, family, kids, grandkids; I love martinis and cigars [both of which I enjoy much more rarely than I would like, since I’d like to enjoy them for many more years….]; I’m politically [...]

How Changing My Views Affected My Relationships

I’ve decided to answer a personal question in this week’s Readers’ Mailbag, about how my relationships with others changed as I went from being a very conservative evangelical Christian to becoming an agnostic/atheist.   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 Bible, the historical Jesus, and the development of early Christian theology. For some years, from the time I had become a “born-again” Christian when I was fifteen up through the years I was at Moody Bible Institute and then Wheaton College, and even my first year in a Masters of Divinity program, I had [...]

2018-01-12T13:35:08-05:00September 17th, 2017|Bart’s Biography, Public Forum, Reflections and Ruminations|

Speaking in Tongues and Virgin Births: Readers’ Mailbag September 3, 2017

I will deal with two questions in this week’s Readers’ Mailbag.  The first has to do with why some conservative Christian theologians insist that the “gifts of the Spirit” (such as speaking in tongues and doing miracles) are no longer available to believers today (doesn’t the Bible indicate that they are?), and the second about whether the Gospel of Matthew mistranslates or misunderstands the passage of Scripture that allegedly indicated that the messiah would be born of a woman who was still a virgin. I need to unpack the first question before giving it, since it may not make sense on first reading.  The questioner is asking about the scene in the book of Acts, chapter 2, where, on the day of Pentecost, the Spirit comes upon the apostles allowing them to speak in foreign tongues.   Peter explains to the crowds that this is a fulfillment of what had been prophesied in Scripture. Today conservative theologians are split on the question of whether the Spirit still empowers believers to speak in tongues and do other [...]

2020-04-03T02:03:05-04:00September 3rd, 2017|Bart’s Biography, Public Forum, Reader’s Questions|

Was There a “Moment” When I Left the Faith?

I sometimes get asked if there was a moment when I realized I simply did not believe in the Christian God and subscribe to the Christian faith any more.   What I have been trying to explain is that for me it was a long drawn out process.  It was not a matter of my being a fundamentalist, then finding a contradiction in the Bible and throwing up my hands in despair and saying “Oh no!  There *is* no God!!” It didn’t happen like that at all.  I didn’t go from being a fundamentalist to being an agnostic.  It was a many-year struggle in which I went from a rabid fundamentalist to becoming a slightly left of center evangelical to being for many years a liberal Christian active in the church and thinking as deeply as I could about the theological views that had long been established in my tradition. I explained in the previous post how it was the problem of suffering that finally made me leave the faith.  And in a sense there *was* [...]

Leaving the Faith

By the early to mid-1990s I had come to think that whatever I had held dear and cherished on the basis of my belief in the Christian God, could still be held dear and cherished without that belief.   Do I stand in awe before the unfathomable vastness and incredible majesty of the universe?  Do I welcome and feel heartfelt gratitude for moments of grace?  Do I value the love of family and the companionship of friends?  Do I appreciate the many good things in life: My work?  Travel?  Good food and good drink?  All the little things that make life enjoyable?  Yes, but what does any of this necessarily have to do with God? As a Christian – from the time I was able to think, through my teenage and early-twenties fundamentalist period, up to my more mature adult liberal phase – I had believed in some form of the traditional, biblical God.  This was a God who was not some kind of remote designer of the universe who had gotten the ball rolling and [...]

Growing into Unbelief

As I continued to go to church in the late 1980s and early 1990s, I found that I simply believed less and less of the Christian tradition in anything like a literal sense. Was God the creator?  Well, maybe in some kind of ultimate sense, but not literally.   The universe was billions of years old, it came into being at the Big Bang, it has been expanding ever since, and the reaches of space – with its unfathomable numbers of galaxies each with billions of stars –as surely not “created” by a being principally concerned with a form of life that happened to evolve on one small planet circling one relatively small star, one of many, many billions in one relatively small galaxy.  The human-centeredness of the view of “creation” did not, at the end of the day, really make sense to me. And God himself?  Did he exist?  Yes, I thought he did.  But I wasn’t sure we could possibly know much if anything about him.   I assumed he was somehow in some sense [...]

Did Paul Think Jesus’ Body Remained in the Grave? Mailbag July 14, 2017

  I will address two very different questions in this edition of the Readers’ Mailbag.  If you have a question you would like me to address, ask away, and I’ll add it to the list.   QUESTION: I just finished reading scholar Gregory Riley’s Resurrection Reconsidered. He presents the position that people in the Greco-Roman world had a very different perception about spirits (ghosts) than we do today. Riley states that people living in the first century Roman Empire believed that dead people frequently came back to visit the living, appearing in “bodies” that looked exactly like their former fleshly bodies, and having the same capabilities of their former fleshly bodies: capable of eating food, drinking wine, and even engaging in sex…even sex with the living! The ONLY difference between a spirit body and a fleshly body was that USUALLY a spirit body was impalpable (could not be touched). Riley believes that Paul would have been shocked to hear about an empty tomb as he would have believed that Jesus’ fleshly body would OF COURSE [...]

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