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New Testament Gospels

Aren’t You Inconsistent in Your View of the Historicity of the Gospels?

Do contradictions in a story show that it didn't happen?  When I first responded (a few days ago) to Mark Goodacre’s five points calling into question the traditional story of the discovery of the Nag Hammadi Library, I was intrigued to receive a number of comments suggesting I sure seemed to be inconsistent in how I dealt with historical accounts. To wit:  Why would I say contradictions in the Nag Hammadi discovery story (that Mark pointed out) DON'T show that the basic account is false -- that is, didn't happen --  but I DO use contradictions to call the Gospel accounts of Jesus into question.  Is this an agenda-driven inconsistency? All right -- fair question.  First let me remind you that in my post a few days ago (about the Nag Hammadi discovery) I pointed out that just because a story changes over time does not mean that the gist of the story is false.  If some tellings indicate that the jar was two feet tall and others that it was six, or [...]

2023-10-22T19:26:10-04:00October 25th, 2023|Canonical Gospels|

But If It Didn’t Really Happen, Who Cares?

Whenever I have talked about the story of Jesus and the leper in Mark 1:40-44 on the blog -- most recently a week or so ago -- I have gotten a number of comments from readers that made me realize that I wasn’t being at all clear about what I was talking about. These comments came from people who appear to have thought I was talking about a historical event that really happened, one way or the other, and that I was trying to figure out which it was. Did Jesus really get angry or did he really feel compassion? In response to my view that Mark 1:41 originally indicated that Jesus got angry, some comments stressed that what really mattered was not his emotion but the fact that he did what he did. Others wanted me to know that it didn’t matter to them which emotion was ascribed to Jesus, because in their opinion the whole thing never actually happened at all. Both of these views (they’re obviously at the opposite ends of [...]

2023-10-12T10:55:17-04:00October 10th, 2023|Canonical Gospels, Historical Jesus|

If Luke Didn’t Originally Have a Birth Story — Then What?

In my previous post, ostensibly on the genealogy of Luke, I pointed out that there are good reasons for thinking that the Gospel originally was published – in a kind of “first edition” – without what are now the first two chapters, so that, after the Preface of 1:1-4, the very beginning was what is now 3:1 (this is many centuries, of course, before anyone started using chapters and verses). If that’s the case, Luke was originally a Gospel like Mark’s that did not have birth and infancy narratives. These were added later, in a second edition (either by the same author or by someone else). If that’s the case then the Gospel began with John the Baptist and his baptism of Jesus, followed by the genealogy which makes better sense here, at the beginning, than it does in the third chapter once the first two are added. But is there any hard evidence that a first edition began without the first two chapters? One of the reasons it is so hard to say [...]

2023-10-03T09:55:20-04:00October 7th, 2023|Canonical Gospels|

Did Luke Originally Have the Birth Narrative (chapters 1-2)?

In my previous post I pointed out that some scholars, myself included, think that the original Gospel of Luke did not have the birth narrative recounted in chapters 1-2 (the annunciation of Mary's virginal conception, the trip to Bethlehem from Nazareth, the worship of the shepherds, etc. etc.). In this view the Gospel started with what is now 1:1-4 and then the next verse was what is now 3:1, and the Gospel went from there. I posted on this issue some years ago, but I think it's worthwhile addressing it again in the context of the current thread, on just how "messy" the situation was in the first couple of centuries when different Gospels were all in circulation (not just our four), saying different things, and sometimes in different versions themselves. What's the evidence that there was an earlier version of Luke without the familiar birth narrative (which, in case you don't recall, differs hugely from Matthew's). One place to start to explain the matter is with what comes *after the birth narrative in [...]

2023-10-03T10:01:01-04:00October 5th, 2023|Canonical Gospels, Public Forum|

Early Gospels in Circulation: An Even Messier Scenario

When it comes to the early Christian Gospels, most people simply assume that there were four Gospels from the first century (those in the NT), and no others, and that they were written as they are found now, and that they circulated in that form, and that later Gospel writers (say in the second century) who used earlier written sources about Jesus must have borrowed their stories from those Gospels. Their other stories they just made up, or heard about from oral traditions, or both. In my last post I suggested why I don’t think that view is particularly plausible, and tried to imagine something a bit more realistic; there I proposed a “messier scenario" in which there were numerous early Gospels, some earlier than others (e.g., Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are the earliest that survive, but that doesn’t mean they were the earliest). In this view, Gospels later than the canonical four (e.g., Papyrus Egerton 2) may or may not have used the canonical four for their information (with additional legendary materials); [...]

2023-10-03T10:11:18-04:00October 4th, 2023|Canonical Gospels, History of Biblical Scholarship|

The Messy World of the Early Christian Gospels. Who Is Copying What?

Many people who think about how the Gospels circulated in early Christianity have a pretty simple -- or rather, overly simplified (in my view) -- understanding of how it all worked.  I include among those "many people" a number of Gospel experts.  In fact, including a lot of the top experts.  The issue is this: what earlier accounts of the life, sayings, deeds, death, and resurrection were in circulation and used in the production of later accounts (say at the end of the first and into the second century).  I’ll talk about it here with reference to Papyrus Egerton 2, about which I’ve only said a few things. Scholars have traditionally thought of the four canonical Gospels as THE Gospels that were available, so that when a new Gospel like the Unknown Gospel in Papyrus Egerton 2 appeared the question always was: WHICH of the canonical Gospels was the author familiar with (and which did he use).   I challenged that view in my earlier post.   We shouldn’t think that there were basically FOUR, and everything [...]

2023-09-29T14:12:06-04:00October 1st, 2023|Canonical Gospels, Christian Apocrypha|

Why Would Jesus Get Angry at this Poor Leper?

So far in this thread I have argued that Mark 1:41 originally said that Jesus got angry when the leper asked him to heal him; and I have shown that elsewhere in Mark’s Gospel Jesus gets angry in context involving healing. And so: if Jesus got angry when the leper asked for healing in Mark 1:41 – what exactly was he angry about? Over the years numerous interpretations have been proposed, and some of these explanations are highly creative. Some interpreters have argued that Jesus became angry because he knew that the man would disobey orders, spreading the news of his healing and making it difficult for Jesus to enter into the towns of Galilee because of the crowds. The problem with this view is that it seems unlikely that Jesus would be angry about what the man would do later -- before he actually did it! Others have suggested that he was angry because the man was intruding on his preaching ministry, keeping him from his primary task. Unfortunately, nothing in the text says [...]

2023-09-18T10:18:09-04:00September 30th, 2023|Canonical Gospels, Public Forum|

Why Is Jesus So Angry?

Jesus never laughs in the New Testament Gospels.  But he does get angry. In my previous post I tried to show that it happens in the "original" text of Mark 1:41:  when a leper asks him to heal him, he (Jesus) gets angry.  Later scribes, understandably, changed the verse to say Jesus felt "compassion."  But if Mark actually said he got angry, uh ....  what was he angry about? To answer the question we need to consider a feature of Mark that very few readers have ever noticed.  Unlike in Matthew, Luke, or John, Jesus gets angry on several occasions in Mark’s Gospel. How do we explain that? Scholars have sometimes noticed that it happens in Mark.  But rarely has anyone pointed out that in every instance it appears to involve Jesus’ ability to perform miraculous deeds of healing. In Mark 9 we find the account of a man pleading with Jesus to cast an evil demon from his son, since the disciples have proved unable to do so: “Often,” he tells Jesus, “it casts [...]

2023-09-18T10:26:35-04:00September 28th, 2023|Canonical Gospels, Public Forum|

Jesus and Another Leper: Getting Angry at the Poor Fellow?

In my previous post I mentioned the interesting story found in the Unknown Gospel (as it is called – even though part of it is now known...) contained in the second-century manuscript Papyrus Egerton 2.  There’s an intriguing aspect of that story that I wanted to post on today, but I realized that first I need to discuss a bit of important background. So here’s the deal.  There is an interesting textual variant in Mark’s story of the man cured of leprosy by Jesus – that is, some of our textual witnesses have one way of reading one of the verses, and other textual witnesses have a different way.  And it really matters.  Here is the passage (Mark 1:39-45) in a literal translation.  The textual variant I am interested in is in v. 41 (there are lots of other textual variants among our manuscripts in this passage; this particular one is the only one I’m interested in here): 39 And he [Jesus] came preaching in their synagogues in all of Galilee and casting [...]

2023-09-18T10:44:24-04:00September 27th, 2023|Canonical Gospels, Public Forum|

That’s in the New Testament, Right? An Interesting Non-Canonical Story.

Here's a Gospel story about Jesus and a leper.  Does it sound familiar? And behold, a leper approached him and said, “Teacher Jesus, while I was traveling with some lepers and eating with them at the inn, I myself contracted leprosy. If, then, you are willing, I will be made clean.”  Then the Lord said to him, “I am willing: be clean.” Immediately the leprosy left him. Jesus said to him, “Go, show yourself to the priests and make an offering for your cleansing as Moses commanded; and sin no more....” This may sound like the Bible, but it’s not. This is one of the stories found in a document known to scholars as Papyrus Egerton 2. This papyrus consists of four small pieces of papyrus manuscript, written on front and back (so it comes from a codex, not a scroll). It contains four different stories: (1) an exhortation by Jesus for his Jewish opponents to “search the Scriptures” (in terms similar to John 5:39-47 and 10:31-39); (2) a foiled attempt to stone and then [...]

2023-09-05T17:57:30-04:00September 17th, 2023|Canonical Gospels, Christian Apocrypha|

Locusts or Pancakes? The Dietary Preferences of John the Baptist.

Among the eight quotations of the Gospel of the Ebionites in the writings of Epiphanius, none is more interesting that the one in which he describes John the Baptist. Its humorous side may not be evident at first glance. Here is what he says could be found in the Gospel: And so John was baptizing, and Pharisees came out to him and were baptized, as was all of Jerusalem. John wore a garment of camel hair and a leather belt around his waist; and his food was wild honey that tasted like manna, like a cake cooked in olive oil. (Epiphanius, Panarion, 30, 13, 4-5) What has long struck investigators is that John here is not said to be eating locusts and honey, but honey that tasted like manna , like a cake cooked in oil. That is, a pancake. That is interesting, and somewhat amusing, for two reasons. The first is that to *make* this alteration in the account found in the Gospels of the NT, the author (whoever he was) of the [...]

2023-09-05T17:41:25-04:00September 14th, 2023|Canonical Gospels, Christian Apocrypha|

Contradictions? What Contradictions? Harmonizing the Gospels.

In my previous post I indicated that one of the quotations of the Gospel of the Ebionites, as preserved in the writings of Epiphanius, appears to represent some kind of harmonization of the Gospels, an attempt to explain how the three different versions of what the voice from heaven says at Jesus’ baptism can *all* be right (since the voice says different things in each of the three Gospels).  Solution: the voice spoke *three* times, saying something different each time (!). This way of solving discrepancies in the Gospels has persisted through the ages.  Most people don’t realize that it goes way back to the early church.  I’ll say more about that eventually.  For now I want to say something about it in modern times. When I was in college – as a good hard-core fundamentalist who did not think there could be any real discrepancies in the Gospels (since they were inspired by God, which means there could be no mistakes, which means there could be no contradictions) – I was an expert at [...]

2023-09-05T17:34:44-04:00September 13th, 2023|Canonical Gospels, Christian Apocrypha|

The Apocryphal Gospels By and For Jewish Christians

Among the non-canonical (apocryphal) Gospels are three that are usually grouped together and called “Jewish-Christian Gospels.” These are very tricky texts to deal with. We don’t have any manuscripts of them – even small fragments. They come to us, instead, in isolated quotations of church fathers such as Origen, Didymus the Blind, Jerome, and Epiphanius. These (orthodox) church fathers sometimes quoted or referred to one or the other of the Gospels in order to relate what it said; and sometimes it was in order to attack what it said. There are all sorts of questions raised about the no-longer-surviving Gospels in these quotations. A good part of the problem is that some of these fathers – especially Jerome, on whom we depend for most of our information for two of the three Gospels – quite obviously confused things, or were confused themselves in what they had to say, since what they have to say about these Gospels doesn’t add up and in the end doesn’t make sense. On this every scholar who works on these [...]

2023-09-05T17:07:51-04:00September 10th, 2023|Canonical Gospels, Christian Apocrypha|

Want to Study the Early Christian Apocrypha?

There are some topics that I deal with on the blog that give me a knot in the stomach just to broach -- including the question of whether Jesus was really buried on the afternoon of his death (my recent long thread).  The issues are so convoluted and so many people disagree that I wonder, yeah, Why am I doing this? (!)   But there are other topics that for me are almost sheer pleasure--like the one I'll be embarking on now for a new thread: the Gospels, epistles, and apocalypses that are NOT in the New Testament. I've talked about these on and off over the years, and thought it was time to get back to them.  I regularly get asked by blog members where they can go to learn more about them.  And so I thought I'd start this threat by reposting some of the crucial information. Want to know how my grad students study these things?  Want to take it on yourself?  Here's a copy of my syllabus for the PhD Seminar that [...]

2023-09-05T16:56:28-04:00September 9th, 2023|Canonical Gospels, Christian Apocrypha, Public Forum|

Does Archaeological Evidence Show that Jesus Was Buried on the Day He Died?

[Note: this post originally appeared in 2014; since then the skeletal remains of another victim of crucifixion have appeared in England; to my knowledge, the new discovery does not affect either Craig's argument or my response here] ****************************** I plan to make this the last post responding to Craig Evans’s article, “Getting the Burial Traditions and Evidences Right,” in which he attempts to refute my argument in How Jesus Became God, that Jesus was probably not given a decent burial on the day of his crucifixion. I have dealt with a wide range of Craig’s arguments, and have saved his two strongest arguments for last.  In my last post I dealt with the claim of Josephus that Jews (always? usually? sometimes?) buried crucifixion victims before sunset, and I showed that as a general statement it simply isn’t true, and argued that in any event it would not have applied to a case such as that of Jesus, one who was crucified as an enemy of the state.   Today I deal with the second argument that [...]

Josephus’ One Statement About the Burial of Crucified Victims in Judea

We come now, at last, to the best argument in Craig Evans’ arsenal, in his attack on the views of Jesus’ burial that I set forth in in How Jesus Became God.   Tomorrow I will deal with the second best – an argument from archaeology.   Craig makes a somewhat bigger deal of the second best; in fact he throws off this, his best argument rather quickly.  But it’s the most important point of the many (many!) issues he raises.   The argument is this.  In one passage of Josephus’s writings, in an extremely brief few words (it’s only half of one sentence) (this is the only half sentence in the entire corpus not only of Josephus’s 30 volumes of writing but in the entire corpus of pagan and Jewish literature of all of antiquity that makes this claim) he explicitly indicates that Jews buried victims of crucifixion before sunset.  Craig’s commentary on the passage amounts only to two sentences. At the end of the day I don’t find even this piece of evidence persuasive, and [...]

Does Jesus Call Himself God in His Trial Before the Sanhedrin and the High Priest Caiaphas?

I was recently asked about my claim that Jesus never calls himself God/a divine being in Matthew, Mark, and Luke.  Some people have asked me about what they think might be an exception: his trial before the Sanhedrin headed by the high priest Caiaphas in Mark 14, where he is accused of blasphemy.   Isn't the accusation proof that he claimed to be God?  In our *first* Gospel, Mark? There’s a lot to say about this most intriguing of passages (Mark 14:53-62; if you're a real blog nerd: read it!),  but here are the key points. The first point to stress is that the question is not whether Jesus in the passage claims to be a divine being, but whether Jesus himself did, the actual man in history. There is no question that Jesus in the Gospels claims to be divine. You don’t need Mark 14 for that – just read the Gospel of John (John 8:58; 10:30; 14:5; etc. etc.)  The fact that the Gospels claim that Jesus called himself a divine being doesn’t mean [...]

2023-08-11T16:12:37-04:00August 19th, 2023|Canonical Gospels, Historical Jesus|

Why Critical Scholarship on the Gospels Helps *Believers* in the Bible!

In my two previous posts I’ve been trying to explain that the historical-critical view of the Gospels, in which they are recognized not always to represent historically accurate information about Jesus, is not necessarily a view that “trashes” them.  Instead, it is a view that tries to understand what they really are instead of insisting that they are something else.   Accepting them for what they are is surely a good thing; making them into something they are not can’t be good. In this post I want to do something highly unusual for me.  I want to explain, for those of you who are Christians (or for anyone else who is interested), why this critical view of the Gospels is in fact *theologically* valuable, far more theologically valuable than a view that would insist that the Gospels have no discrepancies between them or errors of any kind, but are historically accurate accounts of what happened in the life of Jesus. When I was a Christian, once  I came to the conclusion that the Gospels in fact [...]

2023-08-12T06:09:19-04:00August 12th, 2023|Canonical Gospels, History of Biblical Scholarship|

Is Critical Biblical Scholarship Valid? What the New Testament Itself Indicates!

In my previous post I argued that critical scholars who insist that the Gospels are not historically accurate accounts of what happened in the life of Jesus – even though they do contain some historically accurate information, which needs to be carefully and cautiously ferreted out of their narratives – are not trashing the Gospels.  They are trashing unfounded fundamentalist assumptions about the Gospels.  In this post I’d like to argue that this view -- that the Gospels are not sacrosanct-historically-accurate-to-the-very-detail accounts of what really happened in the life of Jesus -- is not merely a modern notion that emerged during the Enlightenment.  It is that, to be sure; but it’s not merely that.  In fact, I would argue that this is the earliest attested view of the Gospels from earliest Christianity. Let’s assume for this argument a view that most scholars hold and that I could demonstrate if I wanted to spend a lot of time doing so (for example here and here), that Mark was the first of our Gospels and that Matthew [...]

2023-08-09T07:15:25-04:00August 10th, 2023|Canonical Gospels, History of Biblical Scholarship|

Hey, Stop Trashing the Gospels!

I am going to take a brief break from my response to Craig Evans’s critique of my view of Jesus’ burial.  There are more things that I need to say – and I have not yet gotten to what I think are his two best arguments.  But my sense is that some people are getting a little tired of a steady dose of posts on the burial stories, so… I’m going to break to deal with something else of more general interest. Over the years some people have responded to my argument that Jesus was not really buried by Joseph of Arimathea on the day of his crucifixion by asking me: Why are you trashing the Gospels? It’s a fair question, and deserves a fair answer. The short story is that I’m not intending or 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 [...]

2023-08-01T10:06:27-04:00August 9th, 2023|Canonical Gospels, Historical Jesus, Public Forum|
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