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New Testament Gospels

Concerns for the Poor in the Jewish Tradition

I have begun to contrast the Christian views of wealth and the need for the rich to help the poor with typical pagan views that placed almost no emphasis on helping those in need.  It is impossible to understand the Christian emphasis on almsgiving without situating it in its originating context – the Jewish tradition, going all the way back in the oldest Scriptures of Israel. Unlike the pagan tradition, the Hebrew Bible consistently pronounces God’s concern for the poor and repeatedly instructs those who have means to assist them.  Thus in the Torah itself: “Give liberally and be ungrudging […], for on this account the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in all that you undertake.  Since there will never cease to be some in need on the earth, I therefore command you, ‘Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbor in your land.’” (Deut. 15:9-11).   Many of the most emphatic passages occur, as one might expect, in the prophets: Blog members get beefy posts five times a [...]

My Debate With Roman Catholic Apologist Jimmy Akin

I had never debated a Roman Catholic apologist before.  In fact, I didn't know there *were* Roman Catholic Apologists!  I did know there used to be lots of them who were intent on defending the Catholic tradition against Protestants.  And as it it turns out, there are still some of them around.  There is an interesting organization in San Diego that sponsors their work, called "Catholic Answers." I was invited to go out there to debate one of their speakers, Jimmy Akin -- not about the superiority of Catholicism over Protestantism (about which I don't have much of an opinion, as someone who is neither) but about the reliability of the NT Gospels.  The reliability of the Gospels?  Isn't this a Protestant evangelical passion?  Yup, and of some Catholics too apparently (though before this I had never met one for whom it was).  At least for Jimmy Akin. So we had the debate.  I decided to take a slightly different tone in this one, and to soften the polemical edge a bit.  I'm not sure [...]

2022-04-30T22:12:41-04:00May 10th, 2022|Bart's Debates, Canonical Gospels|

 The Plausibility of the Fourth Gospel: The Sayings of Jesus. Guest Post by Dennis Folds

Here is the second of a two-part Platinum-guest-post by Dennis Folds, who makes the controversial argument that *John* is the more accurate Gospel and that it is *Mark* who has changed the historical facts.  This time he focuses on the teachings of Jesus and, relatedly, the reasons for his condemnation to execution.  Interesting stuff.  Let us know what you think! And feel free to write a post or two in response!  Or write a post on anything else related to what we do on the blog.  Your input is welcome! ****************************** In Part 1 of this two-part post, I described the vast differences between the gospels of John and Mark in the chronology of events of Jesus’s ministry.  Matthew and Luke follow Mark’s chronology, and these three (the Synoptic Gospels) are thought to be more accurate. I argued that the narrative in John is more credible, as it spread the action over two-plus years, had Jesus going back and forth to Jerusalem for major religious festivals, and had a growing conflict with the religious authorities.  [...]

2022-05-10T10:11:32-04:00May 6th, 2022|Canonical Gospels, Historical Jesus|

Was The Messiah Supposed to Be Born of a Virgin?

Here in the lead-up to December 25, I am discussing some issues related to Jesus' birth.  As I mentioned in my previous post, in the entire New Testament, the story of the virgin birth is found only in Matthew and Luke.  Luke has a pretty straightforward explanation of why Jesus had to be born of a virgin: it's because he was (literally) the "Son of God."  That is, God is the one who got Mary pregnant, as the angel tells her at the Annunciation:  read Luke 1:31-35, and notice the angels' explanation: the Spirit of God will "come upon her ... SO THAT" the child born of her will be called "The Son of God." Matthew, though, has a different explanation.  For Matthew Jesus had to be born of a virgin because that is what was predicted in the Old Testament. This view fits in very well with Matthew's entire birth narrative of chapters 1-2.  Everything happens "to fulfill Scripture." Why was Jesus’ mother a virgin? To fulfill what the prophet said (he quotes Isaiah [...]

Pilate Released Barabbas. Really??

I received recently the following question, which deals with an issue I had long puzzled over.  It involves the episode in the Gospels where Pilate offers to release a prisoner to the crowds at Passover, hoping they will choose Jesus.  But instead, they choose a Jewish insurrectionist and murderer, Barabbas.  Could that have happened? Here's the Question and my Response: Did Pilate Release Barabbas? QUESTION: Pilate condemns Jesus to execution for treason against Rome. Pilate gives the Jewish crowds the option of releasing Jesus or a Jewish insurgent, Barabbas (15:6–15).   I did a quick search to see if this was an attested practice in the Roman Empire and couldn’t’ find any relevant information.  So, I have two questions:  Do you think this detail is accurate?  Is there any evidence that Roman officials actually freed condemned prisoners at certain local festival times? RESPONSE: This was an issue I worked on while writing my book Jesus Before the Gospels.  After doing my research I came to a definite conclusion, that I state rather strongly (!).  Here is [...]

2022-05-26T19:47:32-04:00April 30th, 2022|Canonical Gospels, Historical Jesus, Reader’s Questions|

Why Are The Gospels Called Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John?

Matthew.Mark. Luke.John. I recently received an important and puzzling question about the names attached to our four Gospels.  All four books were written and circulated anonymously, and only later did Christian leaders maintain that they were Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.  Why these names?  Here’s the question: QUESTION:  I understand why the names John and Matthew ended up being part of the tradition concerning authorship for gospels, but why a tradition for Mark and Luke?  Today, they seem like unlikely characters for a tradition since they were not eyewitnesses. In the 2nd century did John, Mark (companion of Peter), and Luke (companion of Paul) hold more significance to the early church? RESPONSE: Even though the question is only about Mark and Luke, I think I should provide some context by discussing Matthew and John as well.  I devoted some thought to the question for my book Jesus Before the Gospels.  Here’s what I say about it all there. Why Were the Names Matthew, Mark, Luke and John Chosen? They are the names of two of [...]

2022-05-26T19:50:05-04:00April 29th, 2022|Canonical Gospels, Reader’s Questions|

The Plausibility of the Fourth Gospel: The Chronology of Jesus’s Ministry. Platinum Guest Post by Dennis Folds

I'm pleased to publish this guest post by Dennis Folds, dealing with one of the most important issues in the study of the Gospels: how do we know which (if any) is the most, and the least, accurate?  Usually it is argued that John is the latest, most theological, and least reliable account.  But is it?  Dennis takes on the question.  See what you think!  Then let him know!  He'll be dealing with comments. And remember: you too can submit a post.   It does NOT have to be highly academic and "expert" -- at all.  Why not post something just saying what you think about a topic?  Let me know! ****************************** The fourth gospel – John – is quite different than the other three in its narration of the events of Jesus’s ministry, and in its rendering of what Jesus taught. The other three tell the same basic story; that’s why they are called the Synoptic Gospels. The differences between the Synoptics and John are so stark that since antiquity John has been thought to [...]

2022-05-09T18:33:55-04:00April 29th, 2022|Canonical Gospels, Historical Jesus|

Matthew’s Fulfillment Citations

Fulfillment citations - one of the most distinctive aspects of Matthew’s infancy narrative is his insistence that everything that happened was a “fulfillment” of Scripture. Why was Jesus’ mother a virgin? To fulfill what the prophet said (he quotes Isaiah 7:14: “A virgin shall conceive and bear a son”) Why was he born in Bethlehem? To fulfill what the prophet said (he quotes Micah 5:2: “And you, Bethlehem…from you shall come a ruler” Why did Joseph and the family escape to Egypt? To fulfill what the prophet said (he quotes Hosea 11:1: “Out of Egypt I have called my son”) Why did Herod have the boys two years and under killed? To fulfill what the prophet said (he quotes Jeremiah 31.15 “A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation”) Why did Joseph and his family relocate to Nazareth? To fulfill what the prophet said (he quotes … well what does he quote, exactly? “He will be called a Nazorean.” Huh?) Fulfillment Citations These so-called “fulfillment citations” are found in Matthew and only in [...]

2022-05-28T18:02:20-04:00April 7th, 2022|Canonical Gospels, Hebrew Bible/Old Testament|

How Luke Rewrote Matthew’s Nativity Story Platinum Guest Post by Dennis J. Folds

I'm pleased to give this Platinum Guest Post by Dennis Folds, a highly informed and informative assessment of the relationship between the infancy stories of Matthew and Luke.  A lot has been said about these stories over the years, but Dennis has an intriguing perspective that I don't recall seeing before.  Terrific!  Read it and see what you think.   And send some comments/questions for Dennis. Do you have a post to send along for Platinum members?  It does not need to be highly informed, erudite, researched: just something you've been thinking about that you would like to share with other Platinum members, anything related to the many issues we deal with on the blog.  The queue is virtually empty now, so send your post along! For now: here's Dennis. ****************************** The Synoptic Problem is the framework in which scholars debate about the commonalities among the three synoptic gospels: Matthew, Mark, and Luke. A lot of material is in all three, more material is common to two of the three, and the remainder is found in [...]

2022-03-16T09:36:41-04:00March 14th, 2022|Canonical Gospels|

Why Date the Gospels after 70 CE?

New Testament scholars are virtually unified in thinking that the Gospels of the New Testament began to appear after 70 CE.  The major exceptions are conservative evangelicals who often date them earlier.  One can understand why: they typically maintain that the Gospels of Matthew and John were written by disciples of Jesus and it seems implausible that they would still be alive toward the end of the first century (especially given live expectancies in antiquity).   There are good reasons, nonetheless, for the scholarly consensus outside evangelical circles.  I’ve talked about the matter on the blog before but just now I reread my discussion in my New Testament textbook and thought it might be useful to give it here.  In particular I like the final point I make (in the second to last paragraph), which, now that I think about it, I don’t think I’ve stressed enough over the years.   Here is what I say there:   ******************************   Critical scholars are widely agreed that the earliest Gospel was Mark, written around 70 c.e.; [...]

2022-02-28T13:08:24-05:00March 9th, 2022|Canonical Gospels|

Must Jesus Divide Families? Guest post by Douglas Wadeson

As you know, Platinum members on the blog are allowed to compose blog posts for one another, and I choose one every month or so to publish on the blog at large.   Here is a particularly interesting one by blog member Doug Wadeson, based on a careful and interesting reading of the Gospels.  It's dealing with an incredibly timely issue and provides a rather unexpected answer.  It involves Jesus and family values. ****************************** People often think of Jesus as teaching traditional family values, but in fact he seems to be rather dismissive of the natural nuclear family.  To be fair, maybe his family was to blame.  In Mark 3:20, 21 we are told that some of his family [kinsmen] sought to take custody of him because they thought he had lost his mind.  Not very supportive.  Then when his mother and brothers arrived and called for him, Jesus responded: “Who are My mother and My brothers?”  Looking about at those who were sitting around Him, He said, “Behold My mother and My brothers!  For whoever [...]

2022-02-14T17:43:09-05:00February 24th, 2022|Canonical Gospels, Historical Jesus|

Would Anyone *Invent* the Story of the Women at the Tomb?

I received a question in the comments recently that I've gotten a lot before.  Wouldn't the Gospel story about women being the first to realize Jesus had been raised be contrary to what Christians would have *wanted* to say, possibly even embarrassing?  If so, isn't it likely that no one made it up but that it's actually what probably happened?   It's been a few years since I posted on the question, so it seems like a good chance to post on it again.  Here's what I've said before: ****************************** Who in the ancient world would ever try to *prove* the resurrection by making up a story that women, in particular, discovered Jesus' empty tomb?  Weren't women seen as complete unreliable witnesses?  Their testimony never even accepted in a court of law?  If someone want to prove that Jesus had been raised -- and that therefore the tomb was empty -- they would have invented *men* at the tomb (reliable witnesses) rather than *women* (untrustworthy).  Right? The reason anyone ever has this question is because it [...]

2022-02-05T16:01:12-05:00February 16th, 2022|Canonical Gospels, Historical Jesus, Public Forum|

On Misreading The Gospels: Platinum Guest Post by Joel Scheller

I am pleased to present this interesting guest post to Platinum members to fellow Platinum Joel Scheller.  Joel has taken on one of the most important issues that we can ask of the New Testament:  Are the Gospels meant to be read historically?  Or, as John Shelby Spong argued, are they meant to be symbolic and liturgical expositions of the significance of Jesus? If you have comments and questions for Joel, let us hear from you!   *************************** After Dr Ehrman wrote a tribute article regarding the late Anglican Bishop, John Shelby Spong, I began reading this man’s books, and became enamored with many, but not all, of his assertions. His book “Biblical Literalism: A Gentile Heresy” really struck a chord with me because of Spong’s explanation regarding the difference in what we actually know about the historical Jesus from what we read in the Gospels. As fellow blog member, Dan Kohanski, so recently and aptly explained in his guest blog “What We KNOW About Jesus”, our actual knowledge of Jesus’ life and ministry is [...]

2022-02-13T11:01:21-05:00December 28th, 2021|Canonical Gospels, Historical Jesus|

Which King of the Jews Do You Prefer? Christmas Message, 2021

Over the years I’ve said a lot about the New Testament, usually showing its manifold and various problems.  But at most that’s half the story, and probably a lot less.  There is something far more important:  once you realize there are problems with a literal or historical reading, there is still the STORY.  And the story can be quite powerful.  Like all good stories, those of the New Testament can and should make us think and reflect. These are, at any rate, some of the most famous, influential, and life-changing stories in the world, not necessarily because they are historical (some are, some aren’t) but because they have a message to convey. One of the most powerful and paradoxical stories involves Jesus’ birth in Matthew 2.  He is born in Bethlehem and wisemen astrologers from the East realize that something of cosmic significance has happened.  It is proclaimed in the heavens.  They follow a star to where the King of the Jews has been born and come to Jerusalem to make inquiries.  The Great King [...]

2021-12-17T15:23:11-05:00December 25th, 2021|Canonical Gospels, Reflections and Ruminations|

Blog Platinum Webinar! For You Platinums Only!

It's time for another Platinum webinar; as you know, this is a four-time a year event, for Platinum Members only.  Given the season, I've decided to do a "Christmas topic" that I've never done before. The date:  Saturday December 18; noon (Eastern Time).   No need to register; just show up. The topic:  Six Views of How Jesus Came Into the World:  Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, James, and Marcion. Here's what it's about: Every Christmas Christians celebrate the coming of Jesus into the world, and even non-Christians hear a good deal about it.  What almost no one realizes is that Jesus' appearance in the world is understood differently by our various early accounts.  In this talk I'll discuss the various ways of understanding Jesus' appearance in the world. I will be trying to show that all four Gospels appear to have different understandings (either significantly or somewhat different); and I will then look at two non-canonical accounts, a view allegedly written by Jesus' brother James, which had a big impact on how Christians have seen Jesus' [...]

2021-12-06T21:21:43-05:00December 6th, 2021|Canonical 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|
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