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New Testament Gospels

Understanding the Gospels: Suggested Readings!

I frequently get asked what I would recommend for people to read if they are interested in the study of the New Testament.   In my recent course on the Gospels (www.bartehrman.com/courses) I'm including as part of the supplement to the lectures an annotated list of suggested readings.   The idea is to provide people with some guidance for important books, some to start with and some for more advanced readers.  Here it is, for your perusing enjoyment!   The Unknown Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John Annotated Suggestions for Further Reading   Aune, David. The New Testament in Its Literary Environment. Philadelphia: Westminster, 1987. A superb introduction to the genres of the New Testament writings in relation to other literature of the Greco-Roman world. Brown, Raymond. The Birth of the Messiah: A Commentary on the Infancy Narratives in Matthew and Luke. Updated ed. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1999. A massive and exhaustive discussion of the birth narratives of Matthew and Luke, suitable for those who want to know simply everything about every detail. Brown, Raymond. The [...]

2022-09-29T10:26:37-04:00September 27th, 2022|Book Discussions, Canonical Gospels|

Big Questions for Studying the New Testament Gospels

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 Lecture One To what extent do you think we can understand the Gospels without knowing what scholars say about their [...]

2022-09-29T10:23:30-04:00September 25th, 2022|Canonical Gospels|

Final Lectures in My Course “The Unknown Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John”

 This will be my final post providing summaries of my lectures for 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/. I am posting about the lectures simply because I know a number of blog members would be interested.  If you are, check it out.  If you’re not, don’t!   Lecture Six:  Embracing the Differences In this lecture I build on the conclusions I have drawn so far in order to show why recognizing the differences among the Gospels is actually the key to understanding them.  This kind of scholarship that finds alterations and discrepancies is not necessarily negative.  It has extremely important positive effects, allowing the reader to see the point each author is trying to make. I illustrate the point by discussing three kinds of differences.  First, some differences significantly heighten an emphasis [...]

2022-09-12T15:33:25-04:00September 24th, 2022|Canonical Gospels|

More on My New Course: The Unknown Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John

I continue here with more summaries of my lectures for my new eight-lecture online course, “The Unknown Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.”  Again, 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/. I am posting about the lectures simply because I know a number of blog members would be interested.  If you are, check it out.  If you’re not, don’t!   Lecture Three: What Are the Gospels? This lecture continues the story by explaining how scholarship developed with the earth-shattering book of David Friedrich Strauss, The Life of Jesus Critically Examined (1834), which claimed that both the traditional Christian supernatural understandings of the Gospels and the Enlightenment opposition to “miracle” (found for example in the work of Paulus) completely misunderstood the Gospels.  Strauss’s controversial claim was that these texts were not meant to present history as it happened but “myths.” When Strauss used that term he did not mean that Jesus “did [...]

2022-09-16T17:51:25-04:00September 22nd, 2022|Canonical Gospels|

My New Course: The Unknown Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John)

My new online course focusing on what scholars know about the four Gospels will soon be available on my personal website.  Neither the course nor the website is part of the blog, but I am announcing it here because I know a number of blog members would be interested.  The course is based on a set of remote lectures that some of you attended, and includes additional instructional materials. If you did not come but would like to know more about it, you can check it out here: https://www.bartehrman.com/courses/.  It consists of eight thirty-minute (or so) lectures, with the title:  “The Unknown Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.”  (I call them “unknown” because most people don’t know what scholars say about them.) I’m envisioning the course as part of a long series covering the entire Bible, both Hebrew Bible and New Testament, called “How Scholars Read the Bible.” The series as a whole will be devoted to showing what historical scholars argue, believe, think, and think they know about the Bible, with some attention paid [...]

2022-09-16T17:52:22-04:00September 21st, 2022|Canonical Gospels|

Problems in the Gospels–How do YOU Talk to Believers About Them? What Do You Think?

I recently received this query by a blog member, and it's a question I often get, both on the blog and off.  I'm hoping that maybe you yourself have some wisdom on it.  How do you talk about historical and literary problems (contradictions!) of the Gospels to people who are convinced the Bible has no problems at all? Here the question is articulated very well.  What's your experience and judgment?  Let us know what you think! ****************************** QUESTION from a blog reader: I’m fairly knowledgeable about the historical Jesus. When I find myself discussing the gospels with Christians who are not, I’m always tempted to lead with statements that certain things are not accurate: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John didn’t actually write the gospels; the four source hypothesis; contradictions in accounts by the gospels; no post-resurrection appearances in the original version of Mark; etc. This seems like a needlessly negative approach to an informal discussion. Christians most often automatically react that I’m asserting some sort of superiority and even dogmatism over them. Do you have [...]

2022-08-18T11:37:50-04:00August 21st, 2022|Canonical Gospels, Reader’s Questions|

Writings of the Apostles in the Canon of the New Testament

How did we get the twenty-seven books of the New Testament?  And why?  I’m in the middle of a thread that is meant to provide a *sketch* of how it happened; I’ll be writing a book on the question, and these are my preliminary thoughts about the topics that I’ll be covering, one at a time. In previous posts I’ve pointed out that the early Christians started out with a canon of Scripture: as Jews they had the Hebrew Bible as an authority for understanding their beliefs, ethics, and religious practices; but as Christianity began to develop its own distinctive views on things, church leaders came to think needed authoritative direction – especially since so many different Christian groups had so many different views on so many issues (not just what to believe but also how to live, how to behave, how to worship together, and so on). What could be decisive authorities? Here’s where I pick up in my thinking:   The Need for Apostolic Authorities It was widely known that Jesus himself had [...]

The Birth of (the Messiah?) John the Baptist? Anniversary Guest Post by James F. McGrath

I continue now with a post that was produced for us by a fellow scholar in celebration of the ten-year anniversary of the blog.  James McGrath has made several intriguing posts for us, and this one is particularly interesting.  Is it possible that stories about Jesus -- especially in the birth narratives were *originally* told about the future messiah, John the Baptist??   That the followers of Jesus took accounts originally told of John and edited them so that they now refer to Jesus?  Very intriguing!  Here's James's post. ******************* The Birth of John the Baptist: Detecting a Source from John’s Followers Behind Three Early Christian Gospels James F. McGrath, Clarence L. Goodwin Chair in New Testament Language and Literature, Butler University, Indianapolis   Anyone who has read my previous guest posts here, or who has read academic publications by Bart and myself, will know we share a great many interests in common: the historical Jesus, the development of Christology, extracanonical texts, and many more. As I have begun to turn my attention to my next major [...]

2022-08-15T08:23:03-04:00August 18th, 2022|Canonical Gospels, Historical Jesus|

Is That One a Difference or a Contradiction?

In my previous post I began discussing the difference between differences and contradictions.  I see contradictions as a kind of difference, one that cannot be reconciled.  Some statements are just different:  Jimmy Carter was a peanut farmer; Jimmy Carter was president.  Different but not mutually exclusive.  Others are contradictory: Jimmy Carter became president in 1976; Jimmy Carter became president in 1992.   Both can’t be true at the same time. UNLESS you figure out a way to reconcile them, for example, by saying that Jimmy Carter became president twice, once in 1976 and again in 1992.  But THAT reconciliation can be shown to be false by other facts (that at Bill Clinton became president in 1992).  Eventually in a case like this, one has to concede: yes, the two statements about Jimmy Carter are in fact contradictory.  In this instance, one of them is true and the other false.  In other instances, you can have contradictory statements *both* of which are false (Bill Clinton first became president in 1962; Bill Clinton first became president in 2002).  [...]

2022-08-14T12:56:21-04:00August 16th, 2022|Canonical Gospels, Reflections and Ruminations|

The Difference Between Differences and Contradictions

There is a difference between a difference and a contradiction.   A difference can be reconciled; a contradiction cannot.  The trick is figuring out which is which. That’s obviously a big issue when it comes to reading the Gospels of the New Testament.  There are many, many differences, and there are also contradictions.  Some readers claim that all the contradictions are merely differences – that everything can be reconciled in one way or another.  These readers are almost always committed Christians who simply do not think there can be any actual contradictions, since that would mean that one of the writers (or more than one) made a bona fide mistake.  Given these readers’ particular doctrine of inspiration, well, that just ain’t right. On the other hand there are skeptical readers of the New Testament who find contradictions simply everywhere.  And, somewhat more surprising to me over the years, there are a lot of critical scholars who assume there is a contradiction in a place where in fact there is simply a difference.  I know this because [...]

2022-08-07T16:19:45-04:00August 14th, 2022|Canonical Gospels, Reflections and Ruminations|

Why Do I “Trash” the Gospels??

Every now and then I get emails from people who are, well, not exactly fans.  They have heard that I've said this that or the other thing, and have no interest at all in reading anything I've written, but genuinely want to know:  Why are you trashing the Gospels? It’s a fair question, and deserves a fair answer.  I dealt with it years ago on the blog; this is what I said then. ****************************** The short story is that I’m not *trying* to trash the Gospels.   In my view, what I’m doing is showing what the Gospels really are and what they really are not.   And that is not a matter of trashing them.  It’s a matter of revealing their true character, rather than foisting a false character on them. I'd agree, of course, that by arguing that the Gospels are not historically accurate I am contesting and challenging views of the Gospels that many Christians unreflectively have (and that some Christian scholars reflectively have).  But urging a different understanding of the Gospels is not [...]

2022-07-18T15:18:45-04:00August 2nd, 2022|Bart's Critics, Canonical Gospels|

Did Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John Write Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John? Free video.

As you may know, I have started producing a series of online courses that consider in a systematic way how historical scholars understanding the Bible.  These are not connected with the blog, but are a separate activity I have for the Bart Ehrman Professional Services (BEPS; website: www.bartehrman.com)   In June I did a freebie as part of the series and invited all blog members to come.  Many did!   If you missed it, or would like to see it again,  just click this link! It's a 50 minute talk, with Q&A following, on one of the important issues confronting readers of the New Testament:  were Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John written by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John?   When did the Gospels start being called that?  Why don't the authors actually identify themselves?  Is there evidence for these attributions?  In short, how would we know.   Take a watch, and let me know if you have more questions! https://www.bartehrman.com/did-matthew-mark-luke-john-write-the-gospels/

2022-07-05T10:55:52-04:00July 19th, 2022|Canonical Gospels|

Rescheduled (and RE-scheduled!) Platinum Webinar July 19

It's past time for another Platinum webinar; as you know, this is a four-time a year event, for Platinum Members only.  Apologies for having had to reschedule this one twice--I'll have a few words to say about that during the Zoom. Our topic is TBA. The date:  Tuesday July 19; 7:30-9:00 (EST)  No need to register; just show up. I will talk on the subject for 40-45 minutes, and then take questions for 30-35 minutes.  Interested?  It's for Platinum members only.  Here's the link:   https://us02web.zoom.us/j/83457463872?pwd=aGl5eHVRNURscllOdEN0SEZNdnJ2dz09   Meeting ID: 834 5746 3872 Passcode: 334283 One tap mobile +13017158592,,83457463872#,,,,*334283# US (Washington DC) +13126266799,,83457463872#,,,,*334283# US (Chicago) Dial by your location +1 301 715 8592 US (Washington DC) +1 312 626 6799 US (Chicago) +1 646 931 3860 US +1 929 205 6099 US (New York) +1 253 215 8782 US (Tacoma) +1 346 248 7799 US (Houston) +1 669 444 9171 US +1 669 900 6833 US (San Jose) Meeting ID: 834 5746 3872 Passcode: 334283 Find your local number: https://us02web.zoom.us/u/kr7B5iXMc I hope you can come!! I [...]

2022-07-13T10:29:29-04:00July 13th, 2022|Canonical Gospels|

Did Jesus Insist on Voluntary Poverty?

I am returning now to my discussion of understandings of wealth and charity in the early Christian tradition, as I think through how I want to draft my prospectus on a book on that topic for my publisher.  If you want to see the earlier posts on views of wealth and giving in the Roman world (which stand in stark contrast with what arose in Christianity), just do a word search for “wealth” on the blog and you’ll see all the recent articles. Now I move to the views of the historical Jesus and his followers; after that, in subsequent posts, I’ll talk about how these views changed significantly over (Christian) time, and consider the real life practical effects they had in understanding the importance of helping the poor in the Western world. ************************ The later Christian discourse appealed to such traditions as found in the Hebrew Bible, but it found yet greater impetus in the recorded teachings of Jesus. For the purposes of my analysis, it is important to remember that historical scholars can [...]

2022-07-15T11:25:11-04:00July 10th, 2022|Canonical Gospels, Historical Jesus|

If Jesus’ Death Was Not an Atonement: Why Did He Die??

I have been dealing with the question of Jesus’ death in the Gospel of Luke and have been arguing that Luke does not appear to have understood Jesus’ death to be an atonement for sins.   He has eliminated the several indications from his source, the Gospel of Mark, that Jesus’ death was an atonement, and he never indicates in either his Gospel or the book of Acts that Jesus died “for” you or “for” others or “for” anyone.   Then why did Jesus die? It is clear that Luke thought that Jesus had to die.  For Luke it was all part of God’s plan.  But why?  What is the theological meaning of Jesus’ death for Luke, if it was not a sacrifice that brought about a right standing before God (which is what the term “atonement” means)? You get the clearest view of Luke’s understanding of Jesus’ death from the speeches delivered by the apostles in the book of Acts.  As you probably know, Acts is about the spread of the Christian church throughout the Roman Empire after [...]

2022-06-20T18:30:27-04:00July 6th, 2022|Canonical Gospels, Early Christian Doctrine|

Does Luke Get Rid of the Atonement?

In my previous post I tried to argue that the longer version of the account of Jesus’ Last Supper in Luke could have been created by a scribe who wanted to make the passage sound more like what is familiar from Matthew, Mark, and John, and to stress the point made in those other accounts as well, that Jesus’ broken body and shed blood are what bring redemption.   The passage as you recall reads like this: 17 And he took a cup and gave thanks, and he said: “Take this and divide it among yourselves; 18 for I say to you that from now on I will not drink from the fruit of the vine until the Kingdom of God comes.” 19 And taking bread he gave thanks and broke it and gave it to them saying, “This is my body that is given for you; do this in remembrance of me.”  20  Likewise after supper (he took) the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood that is shed for you.  21 [...]

How Do You Decide What an Author Actually Wrote? The Last Supper

In my previous post I started to discuss a textual variant that I covered in my book The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture, a very important variant for understanding Luke’s account of Jesus’ last days, for grasping Luke’s view of the importance of Jesus’ death, and for seeing how scribes occasionally modified their texts for theological reasons. The passage has to do with what Jesus said and did at the Last Supper.  Here is the form of the text as found in most of the manuscripts.  (I have put verse numbers in the appropriate places) 17 And he took a cup and gave thanks, and he said: “Take this and divide it among yourselves; 18 for I say to you that from now on I will not drink from the fruit of the vine until the Kingdom of God comes.” 19 And taking bread he gave thanks and broke it and gave it to them saying, “This is my body that is given for you; do this in remembrance of me.”  20  Likewise after supper (he took) the [...]

2022-06-20T18:20:35-04:00July 3rd, 2022|Canonical Gospels, New Testament Manuscripts|

What Did Jesus Say at the Last Supper?

Here is a seemingly simple but inordinately complicated question I received from a read on the blog:   QUESTION: Although the gospel of Luke doesn’t have an atonement message, what are your thoughts about Acts 20:28: “Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood”? This sure sounds like it has atonement implications.   RESPONSE: When I got the question my idea was to give a direct and simple response. But I realized that would be neither easy nor satisfying.  It would take a post.  But then I realized that wouldn’t be enough either: it would take several posts.  So, right – this will be a thread. I begin with some background.  I have dealt with this particular question about Acts 20:28 only once in my life, to my recollection (never on the blog, I believe), in my book The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture. To set up that discussion I need to [...]

There Are No Contradictions in the Gospels! The Response by Matthew Firth

As promised, this is Matthew Firth's (2019) response to my post (the previous one) in which I try to show several places in the Gospels that contain contradictions.  Firth does not see a contradiction in any of the five examples I cited, and explains why, contrary to first appearance, the accounts are completely in line with each other.  Read him carefully and see what you think  (To make sense of his reply you may want to see what he is responding to in the previous post, but ... hey, follow your heart.) ****************************** Thank-you very much, Bart, for your opening gambit. It has given me a most enjoyable afternoon of delving deeply into the Gospel texts, and I really appreciate the written format of this debate, which allows space for considered reflection, study and learning, rather than the rhetorical tennis of some other formats of debate which, while they produce spectacle, rarely achieve deep insight either for the proponents or the onlookers. I will now take the cases in the order in which you proposed [...]

2022-06-14T14:03:42-04:00June 25th, 2022|Bart's Debates, Canonical Gospels|

Gospel Contradictions: My Debate with Rev. Matthew Firth

To celebrate our 10th year anniversary from April 18, I'm reposting all my previous (ten) April 18 blog posts.  Now I'm up to 2019.  In that year I agreed to do a blog debate with a fellow named Matthew Firth, an Anglican rector who studied theology at Oxford University.  Firth had challenged me to a debate on whether the Gospels contain contradictions, and offered to donate $1000 to the blog if I managed to convince him.  That, of course, was a bit of a joke, since there's no way on God's green earth that someone with his mind made up (so much that he wants to debate) is going to change his mind.  But it was an interesting ploy and so I said, Why not? The debate involved a back and forth that spanned part of April including our celebratory anniversary.  Here was my opening gambit; I will go ahead and post his response to it and my reply to his response, in the two posts that follow (to which he replied and then I [...]

2022-06-17T14:59:38-04:00June 23rd, 2022|Bart's Debates, Canonical Gospels|
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