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New Testament Gospels

Was Jesus in Agony Before His Arrest? The Unexpected Answer in Luke.

This mini-thread within a thread started out with my indicating that among the difficulties I have with the NRSV translation is that it includes as part of the text the account in Luke 22:43-44 of Jesus in agony -- the passage commonly referred to as the account of Jesus' "Bloody Sweat" (from which we get the phrase "sweating blood," even though he doesn't sweat blood but sweats sweat like blood drops -- presumably meaning "big" drops?) I've already explaine why I don't think Luke wrote the account.  There's more than can be said, but maybe I've said about enough.  If you want the fuller scoop, you can find a fuller discussion in my book The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture. For the purposes of the blog, two main questions remain: why would Luke change Mark’s portrayal of Jesus going to his death so that now he is so clearly calm and collected? And why did later scribes change Luke’s portrayal by adding the two verses in question? In this post I'll deal with the first question [...]

2021-10-05T14:14:23-04:00October 20th, 2021|Canonical Gospels, New Testament Manuscripts|

An Unexpected Argument Against Jesus’ “Sweating Blood”

In the previous post I mentioned that I first got interested in the textual problem of Luke 22:43-44 (“the bloody sweat”) when I was taking a graduate seminar at Princeton Theological Seminary, my first year in the doctoral program.  The seminar was devoted (the entire semester) to the Greek exegesis (interpretation) of Luke.  My fellow student, Mark Plunkett, presented a seminar paper in which he dealt with the passage.  He was not at all interested in the textual question of whether vv. 43-44 were original.  He was assuming that they were not, but it had nothing to do with his presentation. In his presentation he argued that there was a clear structure to the passage of Jesus’ prayer before being arrested (in Luke’s source this takes place in the Garden of Gethsemane, but Luke doesn’t say so) and he made a convincing argument (to my mind).  And then I realized that the structural argument was relevant to the textual problem of whether the verses were original or not.  While we moved on to other things [...]

2021-10-09T11:19:07-04:00October 16th, 2021|Canonical Gospels, New Testament Manuscripts|

What Do I Think of the New Revised Standard Version?

I recently discussed how I became a secretary for the New Revised Standard Version translation committee as a grad student.  Several people have asked me what I think of the translation, and if I have any problems with it.  My answer is pretty straightforward and comes in two parts: I think it is the best Bible translation out there and I have lots of problems with it.  (!)  The reality is that *every* Bible scholar has *lots* of problems with virtually every Bible translation.  Even the best. Generally speaking, I have two kinds of problems with the NRSV: some have to do with the translation itself, others have to do with the Greek reading that the translators decided to translate.  I’ll deal with the first set of problems in two posts, and second in the next two posts. Every biblical scholar will have problems with the way translators have rendered this, that, or the other passage.  Scholars disagree on everything!  (Well, almost everything.)  There are a few passages that have always irritated me from the [...]

2021-10-08T12:08:58-04:00October 2nd, 2021|Bart’s Biography, Canonical Gospels|

Jesus as a Healer: “First: Do No Harm” Platinum Guest Post by Douglas Wadeson

I have very much enjoyed these guest posts by Doug Wadeson, who spent his long career in medicine, reflecting on Jesus' healing miracles in light of contemporary medical knowledge.  This final post is unusually thought provoking.  Did Jesus sometimes do more harm than good? Let Doug know what you think. [[And if you have a post you'd like to get out there to your fellow Platinum members, with a chance that it could appear on the entire blog, zap me a note at [email protected] ]] ***************************** In the previous 3 posts I suggested some ways that Jesus could have achieved apparent success at healing various afflictions and thus gained a reputation as a healer, and presented some evidence from the Gospels that there were limitations to Jesus’ ability to heal and that some people may have relapsed after their apparent healings.  In this final post I would like to discuss both negative and positive aspects of Jesus’ reputation as a divine healer, with some concluding thoughts.   I doubt that Jesus knew the medical phrase, [...]

2021-08-18T17:08:33-04:00August 18th, 2021|Canonical Gospels, Historical Jesus|

Jesus the Healer, Repossessed?  Platinum guest post by Douglas Wadeson MD

I am pleased now to publish the third of Doug Wadeson's four posts on Jesus as a healer, based on Doug's own extensive experience as a practicing physician and a deep understanding of the biblical texts.  The first two have been terrific and this one is especially intriguing, dealing with a question most people have never even thought to ask:  If Jesus healed someone, did they stay healed?   The biblical evidence is tantalizing, and almost never considered. Remember: you too can offer up a Platinum post.  Just come up with an idea, write it up in around 800-1200 words, and zap it to me to look at in a personal email at [email protected]    All platinum posts have a chance to appear not just to Platinum members but to the whole blog.  So why not share your thoughts? Here now is Doug's provocative post on the possibility of "repossession."  Feel free to share your comments and views! **************************** In the previous post I examined some possibilities that might explain how Jesus achieved some spectacular successes in [...]

2021-08-11T14:27:14-04:00August 10th, 2021|Canonical Gospels, Historical Jesus|

Finally: Cephas and Peter. What Do I Really Think?

I have recently finished republishing a series of posts from years ago that explored the tradition that Peter and Cephas were in fact two different people.  Anyone who is not interested in the Bible would care, of course, but then again, no one like that would be on the blog!  For those who are both interested and familiar with the New Testament, the idea is unusual and odd – a bit of a bombshell, actually, since it is normally assumed that these are two names for the same disciple of Jesus, Simon son of Jonah, nicknamed “Cephas” (an Aramaic term that means “rock”) by Jesus.  When the term “Rock” was translated into Greek by later story tellers, they simply used the Greek term “Petros,” which gets transliterated into English as “Peter.” No problem, right? Well for 99.99% of the readers of the NT over the centuries, right.  No problem.  But for roughly .01% of us there is a problem, as I have outlined in the previous posts. I showed that there was in fact an [...]

The Naivety of the Nativity: Platinum Guest Post by Joel Scheller

This week's Platinum Guest Post comes to us from Joel Scheller.  As you know, only Platinum members can read these posts and only Platinums can write them.  This is a platinum thing.  BUT, once a month we vote on one to appear on the entire blog.  Are you interested in reaching the Platinums with your ideas?   And possibly the entire blog?   Submit a post to me, on any topic related to the blog that you're interested in, simply at my email [email protected] Joel's post is about an interesting and important topic: the birth narratives of Matthew and Luke, with much broader implications for our understanding of the entire Bible.  Feel free to comment! *************************************** I am a Christian. I have a respect for the bible as containing the sacred scriptures of my faith. However, that does not mean I accept all that is written in the bible as fact or truth. It is undeniable that the writings are those of human beings, and, as such, must be weighed with reason, taking into consideration all the [...]

2021-08-04T15:18:57-04:00August 4th, 2021|Canonical Gospels, 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|

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|

Fiction and Fact, Legend and History. Is it Either / Or?

This now is the 7th of 10 parts of my interview with Ben Witherington on my book Did Jesus Exist.  Here there are two interesting questions, both focusing on the relationship of legend and history in ancient stories about Jesus.  Part of the question is whether the Gospel writers were simply riffing on (or, more cynically, ripping off) earlier stories of other amazing figures when talking about Jesus; the other is whether that has a significant bearing on how we understand what he said and and did -- or on whether we think he even existed. Q. Robert Price's argument that the stories of Jesus are a giant midrash on OT stories about Moses and others, and so are completely fiction seems to ignore the fact that midrash is a hermeneutical technique used for contemporizing pre-existing stories. Talk briefly about the difference between how stories are shaped in the Gospels and whether they have any historical substance or core or not. (N.B. It appears that Crossan has recently made the same kind of category mistake arguing [...]

2021-06-22T11:09:51-04:00June 26th, 2021|Book Discussions, Canonical Gospels, Historical Jesus|

The Reconstruction of Q: Platinum Guest Post by Steve Sutter

Here is an interesting and informative post on the Q source, provided for us by Steve Sutter. I have been spacing out these Platinum posts, in part because the supply is limited (and the queue almost gone!).   If you have one to submit: go for it!  You can get your ideas out there, people can respond, you can respond back, and it's all good. *************************** The Earliest Gospel “Q” was Lost -- But Reconstructed By: Steve Sutter, M.S. Presque Isle, Maine   The idea of a collection of sayings of Jesus lying behind the Gospels of Matthew and Luke is not a new idea. In 1908, Dr. Adolf von Harnack, a Lutheran theologian and Professor of Church History at the University of Berlin, authored a book entitled The Sayings of Jesus -- The Second Source of St. Matthew and St. Luke. It’s intriguing that in Harnack’s day, at least some historical investigators hypothesized that Jesus was “a genuine Buddhist, who had, however, come under the influence of ideas originating in ancient Babylon, Persia, Egypt, and [...]

2021-06-19T08:01:43-04:00June 19th, 2021|Canonical Gospels, History of Biblical Scholarship|

Confusing Messages about Jesus and the Father: John 14

The Gospel of John is extremely important for understanding where the doctrine of the Trinity came from.   I should stress: the Trinity does not appear in the Gospel – nowhere does the Gospel say that there are three persons, all distinct from one another, all of them equally God, and yet there is only one God.  That, in a nutshell is the doctrine of the Trinity.  But even though the Gospel does not express the doctrine (either does any other book of the NT), the book could later be mined by those who wanted to find support for it.  To that end, no passage could be more important than John 14. In my previous post I explained a bit about the “Farewell Discourse,” the long five-chapter speech and then prayer of Jesus on his last evening, before his arrest.  In chapter 14 Jesus hits on many of the key themes of the entire address (chs. 13-17; the longest speech of Jesus in the Gospels).  He prepares his disciples by telling them that he will now [...]

2021-05-30T16:05:20-04:00June 8th, 2021|Canonical Gospels, Early Christian Doctrine|

Jesus’ Final Speech in John: A Lead-up to the Coming of the Spirit

I have very much enjoyed doing this mini-thread on the Holy Spirit in the biblical tradition as part of the larger thread on the question of where the Trinity came from.  I’ve never written on this before (the biblical views of the Spirit) or even thought about it systematically, though I have, of course, thought about the individual pieces of the puzzle for many years.  But putting it all together has been instructive and interesting. I have been talking about the role of the Spirit in Paul, Acts, and the Synoptics (esp. Luke), but all along I’ve thought that a passage in the Gospel of John is in many ways the most significant for understanding how the Spirit became part of the Trinity in later years.  The passage occurs in the longest speech of Jesus in the New Testament, the “Farewell Discourse” of John 13-17. This is a flat-out amazing speech that most people do not realize is so remarkable, simply as a speech.  As you may know, in the Synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark, [...]

2021-05-30T16:05:11-04:00June 6th, 2021|Canonical Gospels|

Blog Zoom Lecture This Saturday: Jesus as a Young Boy!

This Saturday at 3:00 I will be giving a fund-raising lecture for the blog on Gospel stories about Jesus as a boy, both as found in the New Testament (there's not much said about it there) and from outside in the terrifically interesting "Infancy Gospels."  Now here are accounts you didn't hear in Sunday School. This is the second in a three-part series on Jesus according to the Christians.  You do not have to have been at the first one either to come or to understand this one -- it is a stand alone lecture, with a good ole Aristotelian beginning, middle, and end. All the funds we bring in will go to help pay for blog expenses, so we can continue to give every dime of membership fees and regular donations to the charities we support.  The fee for the lecture, if you have not already paid for it, is $10; or if you are paying for both this one and the one the following week,  the fee is $19 total.  We accept more [...]

The Spirit in the Life of Jesus

I have pointed out that the earliest Christians believed they were living at the end of time and that in fulfillment of the promises of Scripture, especially in the Old Testament prophet Joel, they (or at least many of them) believed God had sent his Spirit to guide and direct them in these final days before the Kingdom of God arrived.  We find this idea in the letters of Paul (our first Christian author), in the book of Acts (e.g., on the Day of Pentecost in ch. 2), and elsewhere in the New Testament. In this post I want to point out that when later Christians told their stories about Jesus they took this belief that the Spirit had come upon them and applied it to the (earlier) life of Jesus, saying that the Spirit was particularly manifest in his life, since he was the one who inaugurated the end of time. You get some a whiff of that view already in the Gospel of Mark.  When Jesus is baptized in the opening chapter, the [...]

Fantastic Story. But History? Some Doubts about the Triumphal Entry

In my previous post I provided an excerpt from Jesus Before the Gospels where I summarized the New Testament accounts of Jesus’ “Triumphal Entry.”  Here is the second part of that two-part post, another excerpt, where I call this tradition into question, arguing that it cannot be right historically and that it must, therefore, represent a distorted memory. "Memory,” of course, is not simply a recollection of what we ourselves experienced (what you had for dinner last night; the name of your first-grade teacher; etc.).  Memory involves anything that you “call back to mind” (the literal meaning of “remembering”).  It can be factual information (what is the capital of France?), even of something you haven’t experienced (e.g., if you have never been to Paris); it can be a shared understanding of a person from the past (Einstein; Karl Marx), even if you never met them.  And it can be a recollection of a past event even if you were not involved, such as the Triumphal Entry, to pick one example out of countless trillions. Christians [...]

2021-03-24T17:03:27-04:00March 28th, 2021|Canonical Gospels, Historical Jesus, Memory Studies|

Did Jesus Really Have a “Triumphal Entry” into Jerusalem?

Tomorrow is Palm Sunday, the day on which Christians commemorate Jesus' "triumphal entry" into Jerusalem.  It is a terrific holiday in the Christian calendar, a celebration of victory and joy, prior to the dark events to occur at the end of the week on Good Friday. The historian would want to know: did it really happen?  Did Jesus really ride into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey to the acclamation of the crowds proclaiming him to be the coming messiah, laying down their cloaks and palm branches before him in full celebration?  It's a *terrific* story; a climax of Jesus' ministry, in a sense.  Is it historical? I deal the question in my book Jesus Before the Gospels and will excerpt the discussion here.  This will take two posts.  This one sets the stage and the next one asks how we can figure out if it really happened. ****************************** The Triumphal Entry There seems to be no reason to doubt that Jesus spent the last week of his life in Jerusalem looking ahead to the [...]

2021-03-24T17:03:59-04:00March 27th, 2021|Canonical Gospels, Early Judaism, Historical Jesus|

Was Matthew Influenced by Buddhist Writings? Platinum Post by Steve Sutter

Platinum Members!  Here is another guest post by Steve Sutter on interesting parallels between Buddhist writings and the Gospels.  What do you think?  Let him, me, and your fellow Platinum folk know! ALSO: The platinum-post well is running dry.  Do you have something you'd like to contribute?  Go for it!  We'd all enjoy it and you can get your thoughts and ideas out there to a generous and welcoming public!  It can be on anything related to the blog, if even remotely! But for now, here is Steve's post. ******************************   Matthew’s Gospel Tinged by Buddhism as Well   It seems to me entirely possible that the authors of the Gospels of Luke and Matthew had knowledge of Buddhist scriptures while composing the content of their manuscripts in the late first century AD. Some parallels are very fascinating.   Using a similar format as articles I published in the Fort Fairfield Journal November 18, 2020 and January 13, 2021, let me again share a sample of Buddhist scriptures, while pointing this time to verses in [...]

2021-03-10T11:46:12-05:00March 9th, 2021|Canonical Gospels, Platinums|

In What SENSE is Jesus “God” in Matthew, Mark, and Luke? My Change of Mind

In yesterday’s post I pointed out that if one asks about an early Christian text: “Does it portray Jesus as God,” then almost always if the answer is Yes (which it usually is), it has to be qualified: “Yes, in *some sense*. “ And the question is always, in *what* sense? The reason I stress this point is that for many years – until I dug deep into research for my book How Jesus Became God – I was quite vehement, in person and in print, that the Synoptic Gospels did not portray Jesus as divine, but only the Gospel of John did. It’s true – I still think and, I suspect, always will think – that in the Gospel of John there is little doubt about the divinity of Jesus. As we have seen, the Gospel opens with the amazing poem: “ In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. All things came into being through him, and apart from him nothing came into being [...]

2021-02-16T11:35:33-05:00February 28th, 2021|Canonical Gospels, Early Christian Doctrine, Public Forum|

Is the “Word” (Logos) of God in John the Wisdom (Sophia) of God in Judaism?

In yesterday’s post I began to discuss the Prologue of the Gospel of John, which contains a poem that celebrates Christ as the Word of God that became human. This Word of God was with God in the beginning of all things, and was himself God; through him the universe was created and in him is life. This word took on flesh to dwell with humans, and that human – the divine word made flesh – was Jesus. Some readers over the years have wondered if this celebration of the Logos of God that becomes flesh owes more to Greek philosophy than to biblical Judaism. It’s a good question, and hard to answer. One thing that can be said is that this Logos idea does find very close parallels with other biblical texts – in particular with texts that speak of the Wisdom (Greek: Sophia) of God. Sophia and Logos are related ideas; both have to do in some respect with “reason.” Sophia is reason that is internal to a person; Logos is that reason [...]

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