In my previous posts I summarized the eight lectures that can be found on my new eight-lecture online course, “The Unknown Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.” As I’ve indicated before, this course is not connected directly with the blog: it is a separate endeavor run off my personal website for the Bart Ehrman Professional Services. You can see it here. https://www.bartehrman.com/courses/.
Included in the course packet are questions for reflection, meant to help listeners think through the issues I’ve discussed and reflect on them from their own perspective. I deal with each of these issues in some depth in the course of the lectures. If you are interested in these issues, and have trouble answering the questions as fully as you like, or would like additional information about them to go on – take a look at the course and see if it’s your cup of tea!
The Unknown Gospels
Questions for Reflection
- To what extent do you think we can understand the Gospels without knowing what scholars say about their authors, dates, sources of information, and reliability? Largely? Moderately? Not at all?
- What do you see as the most significant problems with the Gospels and how might these affect how we understand them?
- What about Martin Luther’s views could lead scholars eventually to adopt a more historical approach to the New Testament?
- Do you think that Rationalists like Hermann Samuel Reimarus and Heinrich Paulus went too far in eliminating all the miraculous elements from the Gospels? What is gained by their approach, and what is lost?
- How would you describe David Friedrich Strauss’s understanding of the Gospels as “myth”? What (if anything) about this view strikes you as insightful and what (if anything) seems problematic?
- Everyone recognizes that the Gospels are different from each other. In your opinion, do the differences matter significantly? If so, in what way? And if not, why not?
- Do you think the Gospels were written by eyewitnesses, or at least were based on eyewitness testimony? If they were, in your view, would this suggest we can trust their historical accuracy? If they were not, in your view, does that mean they are necessarily untrustworthy?
- What is your view about the historical reliability of traditions that circulated by word of mouth for years in fundamentally oral cultures? How would traditions change (if at all), and would they necessarily move away from historical reliability?
- What strikes you as the most important reasons for knowing about the written sources of the Gospels (especially if one or more of them used one or more of the others as sources for their own accounts)? That is, how would it help us to understand them better?
- How do you differentiate between a textual difference and a contradiction? Do you think the differentiation matters for studying the Gospels? If so, give a couple of examples where you think it might affect your understanding.
- Many people think that critical scholarship on the Gospels that focuses on their problems – for example, issues of historical reliability and literary discrepancy – is entirely negative and unhelpful for understanding their message. Others think it is helpful for understanding them. Explain your view.
- Explicate one instance in which Gospel differences may help us understand the meaning and/or emphasis of a passage.
- In your view, just how significant is the fact that we do not have the original copies of the Gospels but only copies made many years after the originals, and that they all differ in many ways (usually minor, but sometimes major)? Explain just why it matters, or does not. In your view do we have a completely solid idea of what the authors actually wrote, a really good idea, a pretty good idea, or no idea at all? What makes you think so?
- Choose one passage of the Gospels that is worded in different ways in our manuscripts, explain what the difference is, and show how it affects the meaning of the passage. How significant is the difference, in your view?
- What do you see as the major reasons early Christian leaders wanted to have a collection of authoritative accounts of Jesus life? Why was the collection needed? What was it meant to achieve? And in what ways did it achieve it?
- How did church leaders decide which Gospels should be included in the canon, and which left out? Do you think the process was fairly cut and dried? How much was it driven by historical contingencies and uncertainties?
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