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New Testament Gospels

Why Does Matthew Have the Story of the “Wise Men”?

QUESTION: My Bible group had a good time yesterday comparing Matthew and Luke's accounts of the Christmas story. One question that came up was why would Matthew relate the story of the Magi?   RESPONSE Ah, it’s a great question and – as it turns out – an important one for understanding the Gospel of Matthew.   The story is found only in this Gospel (But this time of year, who can keep ones mind from jumping to:  “We Three Kings of Orient Are….”), and it is  filled with intriguing conundra. For example, why would pagan astrologers from the East be interested in knowing where the King of Israel was born and come to worship him?  Were they doing this for all babies who were bound to become kings of foreign countries?  How does a star lead them to Jerusalem and then disappear and then reappear and lead the Magi not just to Bethlehem but stop over a *house*?  How does a star stop over a house?  If Herod really sent out the troops to kill [...]

2020-04-02T14:32:40-04:00December 26th, 2019|Canonical Gospels, Historical Jesus, Reader’s Questions|

Why Are Their Differences in the Gospels? Does it Affect Their Inspiration? Guest Post by Mike Licona

This is Mike's third and final guest post.  In the earlier post he explained his views about whether the Bible is inspired by God and is inerrant.  He thinks the answers to both are "yes," though his actual views are not what most people would probably expect.   Here now is the third, and critical post, based on the research he did for his 2017 Oxford University Press book, with the same title:  Why Are There Differences in the Gospels?    I agree with a lot of what Mike writes here.  In reading it, I'd suggest you bear in mind his earlier two posts, that he sees the Gospels as inspired and inerrant. Mike has graciously agreed to answer questions you have for him, but only for the next four days!  Otherwise this would go on forever.  And please, in your questions, do your best to keep them concise and direct, without asking multiple questions at once.  Pick the most pressing.  And I scarcely need to remind you of that verse in the Ehrman Revised Standard Version: "The [...]

2021-02-13T01:11:39-05:00December 10th, 2019|Canonical Gospels, Greco-Roman Religions and Culture|

Is the Bible Inerrant? Guest Post by Mike Licona

This now is the second of three posts by Mike Licona, Associate Professor of Theology at Houston Baptist University.  Mike has a PhD in New Testament studies and is a committed evangelical apologist, who has written a recent book, Why Are There Differences in the Gospels (Oxford University Press, 2016). He does indeed admit there are differences in the Gospels, which some people would claim are actually contradictions; but he continues to believe the Bible is "inerrant."  What does he mean then?  In this clear and lucid post, he explains his views. NOTE: Mike's first post generated lots of comments, and it was a bit overwhelming.   He will be willing to answer questions/comments over the next four days, but not afterward.  That in itself is amazingly generous.  Please don't ask tons of questions in one comment -- that (I can say from experience) is hard to deal with!   Moreover, he and I both know that many people on the blog have a different perspective from his.  But please be respectful and courteous, even in your [...]

2021-02-13T01:05:29-05:00December 2nd, 2019|Canonical Gospels, History of Biblical Scholarship|

Setting Dates for the Gospels

One of the questions I often get asked on the blog is how we know when the Gospels were written.   I've answer the question at some length before, and thought it might be useful to answer it again. Here's what I said years ago, and looking at it, I'd say the same thing again.  In fact, I will.  Here: **************************************************************************** QUESTION: How are the dates that the Gospels were composed determined? I've read that Mark is usually dated to 70 or later because of the reference to the destruction of the temple. Is this the only factor that leads scholars to conclude that it was composed in 70 CE or later or are there other factors? I've heard that Luke and Matthew are likewise dated aroun 80-85 CE to give time for Mark to have been in circulation enough to be a source for them. Is this accurate? How is John usually dated to around 95 CE (or whatever the correct period is) since it is usually described as independent of the other Gospels?   [...]

2020-04-02T14:34:59-04:00November 26th, 2019|Canonical Gospels, Reader’s Questions|

Jesus and Sexual Immorality

I began to discuss yesterday the interesting case that NT scholar Scot McKnight advances for thinking that maybe Jesus *does* speak of same-sex relations in the Gospels.  The last (group) of his three references are the ones he thinks are the most likely instances:   Matthew 5:32 But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, makes her the victim of adultery, and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery. Matthew 15:19 For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.   The Greek word for “sexual immorality” here is porneia.  It is a broad term that probably does mean something like “sexual immorality.”   Scot argues that any Jew in the first century who wanted to know what sexual immorality was would automatically think and turn to Leviticus 18, the passage I referred to in an earlier post, a passage that considers a sex with certain others is not just inappropriate but an “abomination.”   Included in the list is “men with men.”  Jesus therefore is [...]

Maybe Jesus DOES Talk about “Homosexuality”?

In my recent post I pointed out that Jesus said nothing – nada! – about same sex relations in any of his surviving teachings.   One blog member pointed out a post on a different blog by New Testament scholar Scot McKnight arguing that there are there passages in the Gospels where in fact Jesus *may* have been referring to homosexuality, in condemnatory terms.  I thought, HUH?  THAT’s interesting!  I better look.  So I did.   I don’t think there’s any way this is right, but you can decide for yourself. This will take two posts.  I’ll cite the the passages, then Scot’s assessment of them (which I summarize), and my response. Several things to say at the outset.   I have known Scott (not well, but a bit) for many years.  He is a bona fide scholar of the New Testament, a well-trained and careful interpreter of the text.  He is also a committed evangelical Christian, and an interesting one: a few years ago he “converted” (or at least moved on or over) to join the Episcopal [...]

Jesus and “Homosexuality”

This post is free and available to everyone.  Most posts on the blog are for members only.  But the good news is that it's extremely easy and inexpensive to join.  It costs less than 50 cents a week, for five posts of this substance.  You get TONS for your money.  And all proceeds to to charity.  So why not? Most Christians today who continue to condemn homosexuality, whether in publicly opposing the LGBTQ community or privately assigning people of various sexual identities or non-heterosexual actions to eternal damnation, or at least to God’s bad side, do so on the basis of the New Testament.  Yes, they know about the book of Leviticus and it’s condemnation of men having sex with men; but most of the time that is a kind of back-up argument. Since they realize and openly admit that so much else in the book of Leviticus is no longer applicable to Christians (for example, kosher food laws), they realize that the case against same-sex relations, let alone sexual orientation, cannot be water-tight with [...]

The Gospel of Thomas and the Other Gospels

Here's a post from seven years ago that is still very important and intriguing to anyone interested in the NT and early Christianity.   It's mainly about the most influential and historically important Gospel from outside the New Testament.  I've inserted a couple of explanations [in brackets] to update the post. ******************************************************************* One of the benefits of teaching at a research university with a graduate program is that – at least where I am – there are periodic reading groups with other faculty members and graduate students. I go to a couple of these a month, including one that I organize. As it turns out, last week I went to two. The first was mine, the (other ) CIA, in which we typically read someone’s work-in-progress. That week’s presentation was a paper by my former student and soon-to-be faculty member in early Christianity at Duke Divinity School, Maria Doerfler, an exceptionally bright and erudite human being [who now is teaching at Yale], who gave a paper on a virtually unknown letter by the famous fourth-century bishop [...]

What Is the New Testament? A Broad Overview

With some very sage outside advice, I have decided to add a new feature to the blog.   Once or twice a week (at least that’s the *plan*) I will create a kind of “general introduction” post, dealing with some broad and basic matter connected with the New Testament, the Historical Jesus, the apostle Paul, the role of women in the church, persecution and martyrdom, heresy and orthodoxy, the development of theology, the Christianization of the empire, etc. etc.   Broad overviews, of the BIG matters, at the introductory level. The idea is to make, say, three or four related posts on each issue, and then, when they’re completed, edit them all together into one massive post (say 4000-5000) words, and have that post well indexed with lots of links to other posts on the blog.  That way, we can maximize its wide availability throughout the internet.  When someone googles “What Is The New Testament,” they will find this particular post; the post will link to other posts on the blog.  People go to these other posts.  [...]

Video Debate with Peter Williams: Can We Trust the Gospels

This was a video debate I did last summer in London with British Biblical scholar Peter Williams.  Peter has been a friend for a long time, and is a real expert on the manuscript tradition of the New Testament.   He is also a committed evangelical Christian who does not believe there are mistakes in the Gospels.  I so disagree with that.  We had a debate about it on the Christian Radio program "Unbelievable" under their new series "The Big Conversation" Season 2-Episode 3, hosted by Justin Brierley. It was a long and interesting debate.  Peter has written Can We Trust the Gospels? and C S Lewis vs the New Atheists.  My contention throughout the debate is that he has not answered the question adequately, that in fact virtually everything he says in the book is irrelevant to the question.  It's a very interesting and unusual attempt that he makes.  But most of the book completely misses the point. It's the kind of book that anyone who wants very much to trust the Gospels will come [...]

2020-12-17T16:37:39-05:00October 27th, 2019|Bart's Debates, Canonical Gospels, Video Media|

The Quest for the Historical … Judas Iscariot

I occasionally (in fact, just last week) get asked if I think Judas Iscariot was a real person or a fictional character, wholly made up.  I have a definite view about that.  Real person.  Actually one of Jesus’ disciples.  And the one who betrayed him to the authorities leading to his arrest and crucifixion. But what makes me think so?  I talked a bit about the “Quest of the Historical Judas” in a chapter of my book on the recent discovery of the Gnostic "Gospel of Judas," a highly intriguing text that emerged into public view about fifteen years ago (the book: The Lost Gospel of Judas Iscariot: A New Look at Betrayer and Betrayed, Oxford University Press, 2016).   Here’s what I say about the existence of the person himself, starting out with the basic and fundamental question of how historians know about *any* figure from the past (Robert E. Lee; Charlamagne; the Emperor Tiberius; uh, Jesus …), and then applying the question to Judas. ************************************************************* What kinds of sources of information do historians look [...]

2020-04-02T14:39:25-04:00October 25th, 2019|Book Discussions, Canonical Gospels, Historical Jesus|

Who Would Invent the Story of Women at the Tomb??

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? I've been asked this question several times since my recent post on Jesus' women followers not doubting the resurrection.  The reason anyone ever has this question is because it is a favorite claim of Christian apologists wanting to prove that Jesus really was raised from the dead.  Proof?  The tomb really was empty.  How do we know?  We have witnesses.  How do we know we can trust the reports of these witnesses?  No one would have made them up: the witnesses in the stories are always * and no one would invent "unreliable" witnesses to back up "proof-claims." When [...]

A New Way of Explaining Contradictions in an “Inerrant” Bible

The other recent development in conservative evangelical apologetics – so far as I can discern as an outsider – is a real move to adopt serious historical scholarship on the Bible and apply it to the defense of the reliability of Scripture.   That may seem like a paradoxical move to non-evangelicals, since it is precisely serious historical scholarship that, since the 18th century, has been the major problem when it comes to the reliability of the Scripture.  In fact, it’s the *main* problem.  So, uh, how does that work? I believe, but I may be wrong, that Mike Licona is at the forefront of this development within evangelical circles.  Two of his most popular books are Evidence for God and The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus. His view is that we should not try to harmonize different Gospel accounts in every instance.  Sometimes, of course, it’s perfectly suitable and appropriate (I agree on this).  But sometimes harmonization simply leads to weirdness and implausibility.  At least in the eyes of most reasonable human beings. And [...]

2020-05-05T13:02:24-04:00October 21st, 2019|Bart's Debates, Canonical Gospels|

Modern Evangelical Christian Apologetics

This particular post is open-access.  Anyone can read it.  I post five times a week on all sorts of topics related to the New Testament and early Christianity.  To read these posts, simply join the blog.  It doesn't cost much, and every thin dime goes to charities helping those in need.  No one loses, everyone wins, so join!!   I spent yesterday at a conservative evangelical apologetics conference outside of Chicago and, as you might imagine, I was the odd person out.   But I was very well received, people were overwhelmingly gracious and receptive and openly grateful that I had come.  There were jokes about being thrown into the lions’ den, but it didn’t really feel like it.  It felt like I was speaking to a crowd that wanted to hear, respected what I said, and simply fundamentally disagreed.  In particular there was a group of current Moody Bible Institute students there; really interesting, interested, and good humored, and we had a great time together. What I was most interested in was how Christian apologetics [...]

But the Women Who Did *NOT* Doubt the Resurrection

In my previous post I noted something unusual about the doubting tradition in the resurrection narratives (i.e., the tradition that some of the disciples simply didn’t believe that Jesus was raised) – in addition, of course, to the fact that there is such a dominant doubting tradition! (itself a fascinating phenomenon) – which is that there is no word anywhere of the women who discover the tomb doubting, but clear indications (either by implication or by explicit statement) that some or all of the male disciples doubted. This is true of three of our four Gospels. Mark 16:8. (This one is by implication only) We are told that the women never tell anyone that they have found the tomb to be empty. So, the disciples are not said to believe and, in fact, so far as we know from this Gospel, no one does come to believe. (Obviously someone did, otherwise we wouldn’t have the Gospel!) Luke 24:10-11. The disciples think the tale of women told that Jesus has been raised as he predicted is [...]

Why Would Jesus’ Disciples Doubt the Resurrection?

I was just now browsing through posts from seven years ago, and came across this one, which is related to questions I get from time to time.  It is an absolutely fundamental issue for Christian faith, but I almost *never* see anyone talk about it.  Surprising!  Here's the interesting question and my response (back when I was starting just to do work on the resurrection stories for my book How Jesus Became God).   QUESTION: Are we to understand from this that some of the actual disciples, the inner circle, doubted? Is this the origin of the “Doubting Thomas” character in John? Maybe not everyone got a vision of the risen Christ? Perhaps these are hints that after the crucifixion some of the group ran away and DIDN’T come back! RESPONSE: This is a question specifically about the stories of the resurrection of Jesus, and it is one that I’ve been pondering myself intensely for a couple of weeks. It would help to have the data in front of us. The tradition that the disciples [...]

2020-04-02T14:40:11-04:00October 14th, 2019|Canonical Gospels, Historical Jesus, Reader’s Questions|

Scribes Who Changed Their Texts on Purpose

I've been browsing through some old posts and came upon this one from years ago, about this time.   It's an interesting topic that people on the blog frequently ask me about:  did scribes really change the texts of the NT on purpose, and how can we know?    The answers are simply: almost certainly yes and it's difficult! Here's an example I talked about back then, one of the most intriguing instances in the Gospel of Mark, where the scribes who changed the text ended up having almost NO effect on Bible translations today; most translators agree on the "original" form of the text.  But the change is really interesting, and can show the sorts of reasons scribes were doing this kind of thing. Here's the original post, slightly edited. ************************************************************* I have started giving some instances of what appear to be “intentional” changes made by scribes, as opposed to simple, accidental, slips of the pen.  Here's another instance of the phenomenon I stress that these alterations “appear” to be intentional since, technically speaking, we [...]

2020-04-02T23:29:01-04:00August 4th, 2019|Canonical Gospels, New Testament Manuscripts|

Is History a Four-Letter Word?

Most people on the planet simply are not interested in history.   I’d say that’s true of most American high school and college students.  History classes can be dreadfully boring, especially with the wrong teacher -- and it is very hard to be a good teacher of history.  In high school, I had almost no interest in my history classes.  Names, dates, things that happened that had no relevance to anything I was interested in or what I felt like doing day to day.  Ugh. But a good history teacher is a marvel to behold.  There is so much about the past that is fascinating, and, of course relevant.  And so, as it turns out, I’ve turned into a professional historian.  Go figure. I’ve been thinking about this because of that debate I had on Monday with Peter Williams, a very bright evangelical Christian and a fine scholar of ancient Semitic languages who firmly believes that the Bible conveys God’s Truth, in every way, so that there are no mistakes of any kind in it. Peter [...]

Flat-out Lies or Willful Ignorance. How Do They Get Away With It?

Sometimes it’s enough to make my blood boil.  Maybe someone can explain it to me. If you were to interview the 7,346,235,000 occupants of this planet, you would find *no* group of people who declare themselves MORE committed to “truth” than the evangelical Christians.  Evangelical Christianity, historically, is about nothing other than the Truth.   Jesus himself said “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life, no one comes to the Father except by me” (John 14:6); and “You shall know the Truth, and the Truth will set you free” (John 8:32).  The Christian faith, for these people, is all about finding the Truth that leads to eternal life. So why do so many of their spokespersons simply tell lies?   Or at least propagate willful ignorance?  Those are the two choices: they either know what they’re saying is absolutely false or they don’t go to the bother of finding out, when the information is readily available to anyone who wants to take 38 seconds to look for it. I don’t get it.   Well, OK, I [...]

Finally! Now We Know. The “First-Century Copy” of Mark

I have posted on and off over the past six or seven years about an allegedly first-century copy of the Gospel of Mark that some scholars claimed we had now in our possession.  This would be by far the earliest manuscript we have of any part of the New Testament, a matter of real importance and interest.  But it turns out NOT to be that, and it has involved a real academic farce. Those of you who have followed this charade know most of the important facts, but for those of you who don’t, and just to remind those of you who do, let me set them out, before explaining the new development: In 2012 I was holding a public debate on whether we can know what the authors of the New Testament “originally” wrote, given the fact that we don’t have their original writings but only later copies of them, all of them different in many, many small ways and sometimes in more important ways.  Virtually all of these copies are many centuries removed [...]

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