Mapping the Diversity of Earliest Christianity

Here is a question I received recently.



One of my favourite pieces on the blog is your post from 13 July 2015 titled ‘Earliest Christian Diversity’ on the work of Destro and Pesce. I find it fascinating and thought-provoking whenever I re-read it. It’s like new information hidden in plain sight..  Did you ever do any follow-up research or expansion on this topic? (Sorry if you did and I missed it.)



I have to admit, I had forgotten ...

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What’s the Story of Lazarus and the Rich Man All About?

In my previous post I summarized an Egyptian story about a rich man and a poor man who both die, with the poor man having a fantastic afterlife and the rich man suffering horrible torture.  The poor man was righteous and so was rewarded, the rich man was a sinner and so was punished.  Is that what the story of Lazarus and the rich man in Luke 16 is also all about – rewards for the righteous and punishment for ...

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The Fate of the Rich and the Poor: Another Story

In trying to unpack the understanding of the afterlife found in the story of Lazarus and the Rich Man, it is important to realize that Luke presents the story as a parable – a simple, imaginative story meant to illustrate a deeper spiritual lesson.   It is not a literal description of reality.

It is true that Luke does not actually call it a parable, but that’s true of most of the parables Jesus tells in this Gospel.  This section of Luke’s ...

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Heaven, Hell, and the Parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man

In my new book I will be arguing that the Gospel of Luke is distinctive in the New Testament for promoting the idea that a person is given postmortem rewards and punishments (that is, immediately after death), and that this is unlike anything found in the words of the historical Jesus himself.  Luke’s view is most emphatically and intriguingly conveyed in one of his most famous passages, and possibly the best known account of the afterlife in the entire New ...

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How Do We Know When the Gospels Were Written?

Here is an important question that I have recently received.  It’s a tricky one!  But completely fundamental to the study of the New Testament.



I now have your book “The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings”. Great book/text! Something I haven’t figured out is how do scholars know when the original Gospels (not copies) were written since apparently none survived?



This is a great question, and one that I get asked a lot.  How ...

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Thomas, the Synoptic Gospels, and Q

A number of readers have asked about Thomas’s relation to the Synoptic Gospels and the famous Q source —  that is, the lost source that both Matthew and Luke used for many of their sayings of Jesus not found in Mark (called Q from the German word Quelle, which means “source”).  Here is what I say about those issues in my textbook on the New Testament


 Thomas and the Q Source.         The Gospel of Thomas, with its list of ...

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The Message of Jesus’ Miracles

I have been talking about the stories of Jesus’ miracles, and am raising the question of whether they necessarily go all the way back to Jesus’ lifetime, as tales told while he was still living.  I pick up where I left off last time, after showing that Jesus’ miracle-working abilities increased with the passing of time.



Not only does Jesus become increasingly miraculous with the passing of time, these miracles are all told in order to make a point.   ...

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Did the Original Gospels Describe Jesus’ Miracles?

      While I’m on the topic of miracles, here’s a particularly interesting question I received a long time ago, and my response.


I have looked up the content of all the papyri I’m aware of (off of links on wikipedia, so who knows if they’re accurate).

It is my understanding that although p52, p90, and p104 are dated around 125-150 AD, they contain fragments of John 18 and Matt 21 only, and that it’s not until 200 AD that manuscripts emerge ...

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My First Taste of Critical Scholarship

In this week’s mailbag I deal with an interesting question about how knowing about a topic is not the same as understanding the scholarship on it.  The question begins by quoting something I said on the blog a while back



Quoting me: “That’s because serious scholarship is itself hard. It’s not an easy read. It’s not like reading your favorite novel.”  Can you recall the first book of serious scholarship that you had to read? Did you think, “Gosh. Maybe this ...

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Traditions About Jesus that Are Probably Not Historical

I have been arguing that there are ways to extract historical information about Jesus from the Gospels – even if they were not written to provide disinterested accounts of what he really said and did but were meant to promote faith in him.

So far I have discussed two positive criteria: independent attestation (if a tradition is found in multiple independent sources then that increases the likelihood that it goes back to the life of Jesus, since none of the sources ...

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