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New Testament Gospels

Who Would *Invent* the Idea that Women (?!) Discovered Jesus’ Empty Tomb?

Back to Christian apologists for a minute (from my post a few days ago).  One common argument that the resurrection stories must be historical is that no one would invent the idea that the first witnesses to the resurrection were women; therefore the tomb really was empty (i.e. since no one would have made up the story that way).  I get asked about that probably once every four or five months.  I dealt with it on the blog -- in fact exactly eight years ago.  Here is the question I was asked about it and my response -- the same one I would have today! QUESTION: How do the stories of the women at the tomb found in the canonical gospels come to be told?  As many scholars I've read have pointed out, having women, who were considered untrustworthy witnesses, as the first to see the risen Christ, was not exactly a way to get people to believe the stories.  So why would the gospel writers tell the stories with the women in such a [...]

By |2020-10-17T07:12:20-04:00October 7th, 2020|Canonical Gospels, Historical Jesus|70 Comments

Gospel Questions and Problems

Here I return to the quiz I gave my undergraduate class the first day of the term; I have been explaining why I ask the questions I do and what I would like my students to learn from them.  Here now are three more of the questions Name three Gospels from outside the New Testament Some students may know something like the Gospel of Thomas, but, well, not many even know this one.  In the course we spend most of our time, of course, talking about Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.  But we also look at some of the amazing non-canonical Gospels: The Gospel of Peter. This is a fragmentary alternative account of Jesus’ trial, death, and resurrection, with unusually interesting features, including an actual description of the resurrection.  People are surprised to hear this, but the New Testament Gospels do *not* describe the resurrection.  They indicate that Jesus was buried, and then they jump to the third day when his tomb is discovered empty.  The event itself is not narrated.  But it is in [...]

By |2020-09-13T14:55:06-04:00September 13th, 2020|Canonical Gospels, Public Forum|43 Comments

Jesus’ Death in Mark and Luke: Why Don’t They Agree?

In my previous post I tried to show how Mark and Luke portray Jesus very differently in his final moments before his death: in Mark he is deeply disturbed and seemingly in doubt, in Luke he is calm, confident, and in control.  But why would they each chose to portray Jesus in the way they do?   It is easier to show *that* they differ than to explain why.  Still, there are some good, plausible views of the matter.  I’ll start with Mark. In Mark Jesus appears to be in shock, is silent the entire time, seems not to understand why this is happening to him, up to the end, when he cries out asking God why he has forsaken him.  And then he dies, never having received an answer.  What is most striking is that even though Mark’s Jesus may not know why, when it comes to the time, he has to suffer like this, the reader ... The rest of this post is for the lucky few, the blog members.  Actually, they're not lucky [...]

By |2020-09-10T16:57:49-04:00September 10th, 2020|Canonical Gospels|34 Comments

The Calm and Collected Jesus

I was just browsing through old posts and came across this one that appeared eight years ago tomorrow – a circumstance I thought was remarkable, since the very topic I cover in it is what I’ll be talking  about with my undergraduate class tomorrow, in my course on Jesus in Scholarship and Film.  At this stage of the semester we are learning about the various Gospels, and one of the BIG points I'm trying to make in the class -- one that is extremely hard for anyone raised with a traditional view of the Bible to get their mind around -- is that each of the Gospels has its *own* story to tell about Jesus:  the portrayal of Matthew is not the same as that in John; that Mark's is not Luke's; that none of them is like the Gospel of Peter; or of Thomas; or of Mary; etc....  Each is different – sometimes in contradictory ways and more often in emphasis (which is just as important).  And you can't just assume they all are [...]

By |2020-09-09T09:57:26-04:00September 7th, 2020|Canonical Gospels, Historical Jesus|37 Comments

Two More Answers from My Pop Quiz

I continue here with some comments about my pop quiz (see: and ), and some of the reasons I ask the questions – that is, what I try to teach from the answers (so that the quiz is not designed to see how much the students know already).  Here are two more of the questions:   In what century were they (the books of the NT) written? Answer:  First century CE.  I use this question to explain the modern usage, among historians (and others!) of BCE and CE.  Of course all of us (well, all of us my age) grew up with the dating system BC and AD.  Most people don’t actually know what those abbreviations mean.  Nearly everyone gets “BC”: Before Christ.  But I remember – or maybe I misremember – being taught when I was young that A.D. stood for “After Death.”  Well that ain’t right.  And a second’s reflection shows why.  It would mean there would be no dates for the years between Jesus’ birth and his death!  A.D. therefore [...]

By |2020-09-03T16:21:07-04:00September 2nd, 2020|Canonical Gospels, Teaching Christianity|43 Comments

Does Basic Information about the NT *Matter*? My Pop Quiz

Last week I posted the pop quiz that I gave my first-year seminar, “Jesus in Scholarship and Film,” on the opening day of the term.  There are several reasons I give a quiz, even before the students have read, heard lectures, or discussed anything about the New Testament.  For one thing, it’s a fun activity and we can have some laughs – it’s not graded and we go over the answers after they take it.  For another thing, it’s important for me to know how much they know about the New Testament and early Christianity before we start the course.  It’s also important for them to know how much they know – especially the students who were raised in church and assume they already know a lot.  Some of them do; but not most.  And sometimes they are chagrined when they find out.  (If I had a nickel for every time a student has said to me, “Why haven’t I heard this before?" I could buy a condo on the Champs-Élysées.) Even more important, in [...]

What Is the Unforgivable Sin? Readers’ Mailbag.

Important question this week! QUESTION: I wondered if you have written a blog which talks specifically about the 'unpardonable sin'. RESPONSE: Well, it’s been a while.  But I get asked this question a good bit, and almost always it is a fearful request – by someone who is afraid they’ve committed it.  So it’s worth addressing the issue again.   I think the NT is pretty clear on the matter, even though few people actually look carefully at what it says about it. In a famous passage in Matthew, Jesus talks about the “unforgiveable sin”:  “Therefore I tell you every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven; and whoever speaks a word against the Son of man, it will be forgiven; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit it will not be forgiven, either in this age or the ages to come.” (Matthew 12: 31-32). As you might imagine, over the Christian centuries there have been numerous interpretations of what that *one* sin was, especially [...]

By |2020-08-27T17:53:02-04:00August 27th, 2020|Afterlife, Canonical Gospels, Historical Jesus|66 Comments

At Last. Jesus and the Son of Man.

Two weeks ago I started addressing a question I got asked on the blog.  At first I was just going to reply to the question as a comment; as my response started getting a bit long I decided I better devote an entire post to it.  When I started working on a post on in, I decided it needed to be a thread.  As I pointed out, that was two weeks ago.  And I still haven’t answered the question. I’ll answer it here rather briefly, based on the information I’ve given.  The answer should make sense on its own terms, but if you want to see the reasoning behind it, read the posts over the past couple of weeks that have been about “the Son of Man.”     QUESTION: In Mark 8:27-28 Jesus asks his disciples “Who do people say that I am?” and they reply that different people think he is “John the Baptist, Elijah, or one of the prophets”  Jesus then follows up with the key question: “But who do you say that [...]

How Jesus’ Apocalyptic Teachings Were Changed (even in the NT)

I have been arguing that Jesus talked about a figure he called the Son of Man, a cosmic judge of the earth who was soon to arrive from heaven to judge all people, to destroy the opponents of God (both human and non-human) and to reward his (human) followers with a utopian kingdom here on earth.  This was not a weird, unusual, or psychotic message: in basic terms it was a rather common view among Jews in Jesus day, a view that scholars have called "apocalyptic." The word comes from the Greek term "apocalypsis," which means a "revealing" or an "unveiling."  Jewish apocalypticism was widespread in Jesus' day: it was a view held by the Pharisees, the Essenes (including the authors and users of the Dead Sea Scrolls), authors of books such as 1 Enoch, 4 Ezra, and 2 Baruch, various "prophets" we know about (named and unnamed), John the Baptist, and many, many others.  These Jews believed the world was controlled for now by forces of evil, but God was soon to re-assert his [...]

By |2020-08-17T18:07:00-04:00August 17th, 2020|Canonical Gospels, Historical Jesus|76 Comments

Did Jesus Think He Would Be the Judge of the Earth?

In order to answer a very specific question about how Matthew uses the phrase “son of man” for Jesus, I have had to discuss what the phrase generally means in the Gospel and whether it is a phrase that Jesus actually used.  I am arguing that he did use it.  That one of the ways he used it was to refer to the judge of the earth who was coming from heaven to destroy God’s enemies and set up a kingdom here (down here, on earth).  And here is the big surprise.  My argument is that when he talked about the future cosmic judge, he was *not* talking about himself. In my last post I talked about the criterion of dissimilarity.  Now I want to show how it relates to this specific problem/issue.  Among the various sayings about the Son of Man on the lips of Jesus are some that would not have been put *on* his lips by his followers.  (The ones where he is talking about himself obviously *could* have been put on [...]

By |2020-08-14T15:38:31-04:00August 13th, 2020|Canonical Gospels, Historical Jesus|64 Comments
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