One morning recently, at the crack of dawn, I was walking my dog when I saw my neighbor Sally walk across the street and pick up the newspaper from my neighbor Jane’s driveway, and head back to her house.  I thought WHOA!  Sally is stealing Jane’s paper! I bet her own paper didn’t get delivered this morning!  Interesting and a bit amusing.

But Sally she stopped in her own driveway and picked up her (identical) paper, and I suddenly realized, OH!  Jane must be gone for a few days and Sally is picking up her paper so it won’t be obvious she’s away.  Sally wasn’t doing something slightly nasty but something very neighborly.

And it made me think how the *context* of an action is completely determinative of its meaning.  The very same action, in a different context, means something different and can have, in fact, precisely the opposite moral worth.

Naturally, I started thinking about other actions along these lines.  ‘Cause that’s the kind of thing I do when I walk my dog.

What does it mean if someone decides to burn some incense?  In the contexts I’m sometimes in, it means that the person wants to be in a relaxed mood, maybe to meditate or do some yoga.  In another context – e.g., in some times and places 1800 years ago in the Roman empire – it could mean the person had decided to apostasize from Christianity and was performing a cultic act of worship to the Roman emperor to avoid being imprisoned or executed.  Now *that’s* different!  So what does burning incense mean?  Depends on the context.

Or consider a simple human gesture.  What if you see someone with their arm lifted straight up over their head and their index finger pointing up.  What does that mean?  If the person is a football player who has just scored a touchdown, it means “We’re #1.”  If she is at a Christian evangelistic rally singing a powerful hymn at the end of an emotional plea for people to commit themselves to Christ, it means “There’s one way to heaven.”  If it’s someone in a small town in Montana not far from a nuclear silo it means, “Look! There’s another one of those damn spy balloons.”

Every day of our lives we often wonder what something means.  Maybe we don’t often enough think about how something means.   How do things mean what they do?  The question applies obviously to written and spoken words –but also to human actions.  Any human action means what it does depending on the specific historical and cultural contexts within which they occur.

Later that day – the day of the apparent newspaper theft – I did an interview for my weekly “Misquoting Jesus Podcast.”  Normally for the podcast, my (brilliant!) host, Megan Lewis, interviews me on some topic or other connected with the New Testament, early Christianity, or related topics (doing things similar to what I do here on the the blog but in podcast form).  Sometimes, though, I’ll interview someone myself, an expert in one thing or another of these.  This time I was interviewing my longtime friend Jeffrey Siker, New Testament scholar and emeritus professor at Loyola Marymount University.  The topic was “Does the Bible Condemn Homosexuality?”

Jeff has edited two books related to the subject (look him up on Amazon) and has a definite opinion about the matter:  It is simply WRONG to use the Bible to condemn homosexuality in the modern world.  His main argument: the biblical contexts are so radically different from ours that the ancient injunctions about same-sex sexual relations simply don’t mean today what they meant then.

Jeff, I should say, is a committed Christian, an ordained Presbyterian minister, and still active in the church. He also, for what it’s worth, basically agrees with me on the kinds of things I say, write, and teach about the NewBart Ehrman Testament, the historical Jesus, the development of early Christianity, and so on.  I don’t mean we agree on everything:  like any other two scholars on the planet, we have lots of things we disagree on.  But we see eye-to-eye on most of the big issues that matter to blog readers:  the Gospels have numerous contradictions, they are not always reliable guides to what Jesus really said and did, the book of Acts is often historically inaccurate, Paul did not write many of the books ascribed to him in the NT, early Christianity was crazily diverse and what we think of as orthodoxy is a later development, doctrines like the Virgin Birth were not original to Christian thinking, and so.

Many of you are now asking: then how can he be a committed and active Christian?  And the reason you’re asking that is because the fundamentalists have won the argument over what it means to be a Christian.  Instead of being the outlandish way-out-there group they used to be, they have now dictated what people in society at large think a Christian is; it must be someone who holds to the complete and literal accuracy of the Bible in its very details, who subscribes to specific doctrines of the church (literal virgin birth, e.g.), who thinks everyone who disagrees is going to hell, and so on.

But Christianity has not always been like that and lots and lots of highly educated Christians – including lots of biblical scholars – don’t accept such views.

Jeff agrees that there are six passages in the Bible that appear to forbid people from have same-sex sexual relations, or that at least are used to that end (Lev. 18:22; 20:13; Gen. 19; Rom. 1:18-32; 1 Cor. 6:9; and 1 Tim. 1:10).  But oh boy are those problematic – both individually and as a group.  Why?  It all has to do with context.

The literary context of each one, the historical context of each, the cultural understanding of same-sex relations behind such prohibitions, and on and on.

I won’t be detailing the problems here (watch the Podcast–it will be posted March 13 on my YouTube channel), but I will say that I find it extremely dismaying how people in our world – I’m thinking specifically of 21st century America just now – have ZERO problem with cherry-picking verses/passages from the Bible that advance their own social, cultural, or political agendas while ignoring verses/passages in the same biblical books or even chapters that are completely contrary to what they think and do.  And want others to think and do.

Approaching the Bible this way is not using it as an authority.  It is using it to promote one’s own authority.  In fact it’s using the Bible in the bad sense (like “using” a person), not listening to it or trying to understand it as a set of books written in a different time and place, addressing contexts / issues different from ours, with presuppositions and assumptions different from ours.  I am a big believer in seeing how the Bible might be relevant for modern situations – just as I’m a big believer in seeing how Homer, Plato, Stoic philosophers, or Shakespeare, Dickens, and Evelyn Waugh (my current kick) – can be relevant for our lives in completely different situations.

But in every case a *translation* has to be made.  Not just from other languages (Greek, Hebrew, Latin, Elizabethan English) but from other contexts.  You can’t just rip words (of the Bible, say) or actions (certain kinds of sexual activities) out of their own historical/cultural context and assume they mean the same thing in your context.  The same actions (taking newspapers, burning incense, pointing upward, or have certain kinds of sex) mean different things in different contexts.  If you want to understand what it meant in a particular context, it is a big mistake to assume it meant the same thing as it does in your context.

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2023-02-23T11:10:34-05:00February 19th, 2023|Public Forum|

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  1. MeridaGOround February 19, 2023 at 8:50 am

    Bart said “… the fundamentalists have won the argument over what it means to be a Christian.” This is akin to Trump saying that he won the 2020 election. Truth-by-assertion is nothing more than “big lie theory”, and Christians who claim that every word of the Bible is literally true are practicing big lie theory. Claiming is not winning! Christianity is all about practice: Q.E.D. “Show them; don’t tell them.”
    ~eric. MeridaGOround dot com

    • BDEhrman February 21, 2023 at 9:42 pm

      I’m not sure you understood what I’m saying.

    • mabbey981 March 8, 2023 at 8:40 am

      I understood Bart’s statement to mean that the fundamentalists, by being noisy and controversial (like Trump), have skewed the general public’s understanding of what a Christian looks like – not that they have won any theological battles

  2. OmarRobb February 19, 2023 at 11:11 am

    Hi Bart,

    What is the theological argument that the early church fathers used to justify keeping some of the laws in the Torah, while regarding other laws to be no longer valid?

    For example, what is the theological argument that these fathers used to justify that adultery is still sinful while eating pork is no longer a sin?

  3. wbhiggins February 19, 2023 at 1:07 pm

    Professor Ehrman, as a historian of early Christianity who early in your career believed in God and I assume the divinity of Jesus and later became an atheist I have a question. After becoming an atheist did any of your historical views needed to be tweaked or have you always come to the same conclusions?

    • BDEhrman February 25, 2023 at 4:06 pm

      I”ve certainly changed my views over time, but nothing, that I’m aware of, because of my loss of faith.

  4. Martin Brody February 19, 2023 at 1:32 pm

    I had listened to a podcast where you laid out your argument that the Bible does not condemn homosexuality. To be frank, it is the worst argument I have ever heard on any topic. My understanding of your argument is as follows. A religious text (the Old Testament) of a people, whose ENTIRE history involves open and hostile opposition to EVERYTHING about every secular culture with which these people have interacted, only has meaning in the context of the secular cultural perspective that these people have clearly and vehemently rejected.

    You reference philosophy in your post. In addition to your blog podcast, I have two main podcasts. Literature and History and Philosophize This, which both take a chronological survey approach. The main “problem” I see with evolution of human thought involves what I call the “whack-a-mole” approach. Each new philosopher, theologian, or political leader wants to “beat down” yesterday’s theory simply to impress bystanders with her or his ideological whack-a-mole skills and lead the herd in her or his chosen direction. I know. This post does the exact thing of which I complain. I will follow your anticipated reply with a “better” approach.

    • BDEhrman February 21, 2023 at 9:48 pm

      Yeah, that’s not my argument. I can see you feel strongly about the matter, but I’m not beating down an old theory. Maybe a way to get to it is this: do you think that the commandment in Leviticus not to wear a garment made of two different kinds of fabric is applicable in the modern world? I should think probalby not, since we all do it. Most of us simply think that there were reasons that this was an important matter to the author of Leviticus and that those reasons are no longer applicable today. If you agree with that, then the same logic would need to be applied to all the commandments of Leviticus, otherwise we’re just cherry-pickig the commands we personally like for one reason or another. If you don’t agree with that, it would be interesting! (Have you ever seen the book The Year of Living Biblically? It’s a scream; very funny. The author literally tried to obey all the commandments of the Torah for a year….)

      • Martin Brody February 22, 2023 at 8:16 am

        I don’t necessarily feel as strongly about it as my comment suggested. My tone was intentionally out of character. In fact, I had some insight about my participation in this blog reading Daniel Kohanski’s book “A God of Our Invention” and am beginning to wonder if I really belong here. Not that I shy away from robust debate. Rather, whether or not my contribution will be beneficial to the discourse.

        I agree with you that the commandment in Leviticus not to wear garments made of two different fabrics does not make sense in the modern world. And quite frankly, it probably made very little sense in the ancient world. The simple fact that there were 613 commandments indicates some overzealousness. But, based on your language below and maybe I’m wrong, I’ve interpreted your argument that what the Old Testament authors wrote about same-sex relationships cannot be used to “condemn homosexuality in the modern world.” Or to put it another way, would those same authors, if they lived today, condemn homosexuality. I say yes. I expect you would say no.

        “It is simply WRONG to use the Bible to condemn homosexuality in the modern world.”

        Continued below:

        • BDEhrman February 25, 2023 at 3:49 pm

          I’d say that if you have a view different from others on the blog, you DEFINITELY belong here!!

        • BDEhrman February 25, 2023 at 3:51 pm

          I’m not sure 613 commandments indicates overzealousness. I imagine in America we have more *traffic* laws than that.

          And no, I don’t say that they would not condemn homosexuality. My view is that we don’t *know* what they’d say. If they lived in the modern world and still had their ancient views, then they would say yes. But if they had my education and understanding of the world, they would say no. So we’re note sure what they would say. But I don;t think that’s the question. They’ll never be here. They were people of their time. We are here, and are people of our time. So what do we say?

      • Martin Brody February 22, 2023 at 8:18 am

        But just because the authors of the Leviticus might condemn homosexuality in the modern world, in my opinion, doesn’t resolve the issue of whether homosexuality is a “sin.” Our modern notion of sexual expression, including same-sex relationships, differs substantially from people who maybe had the “Contendings of Horus and Set” in mind when they wrote Leviticus. And, even assuming that the authors of Leviticus intended to provide guidance as to what was healthy and nurturing for people, the world has changed.

        I upgraded to Platinum because I like reading the guests posts. And based on your encouragement, I’ve drafted a couple of guest posts. The first one I drafted is titled “Dr. Bart D. Ehrman: Apostle to the Atheists.” The second one I drafted is titled “Jesus: Outside of History,” which I think would be more appropriate as a first guest post. This comment and those guest posts will help determine if my contribution on this blog is beneficial to the discourse.

        • BDEhrman February 25, 2023 at 3:52 pm

          You should certainly send them along to me. And my view is that your contributions will defijnitely be beneficial to the discourse. But the issue for you should be whether the back and forth is beneficial for *you*. (Unless you can get those who benefit from your participatoin to pay your membership fee; then it *would* matter. 🙂 )

          • Martin Brody March 6, 2023 at 6:54 am

            Sorry for the late reply.

            I guess I’m just hesitant to declare someone’s interpretation of literature “wrong.” Except the popular interpretation of “the road less traveled” from Frost’s poem. That is just WRONG. I think that those who interpret the Bible to condemn homosexuality essentially view that whatever the authors of the Bible, maintaining their ancient views, would say about homosexuality in the modern world is the “correct” interpretation of the Bible. I can see their point, but at the same time, I think it’s a little more complicated.

            As far as my contribution to the blog, as the shooter at the craps table, you’re essentially welcoming me to play the “no pass line.” I appreciate that and will try consider that other’s have different stakes than me. However, don’t be surprised that, after you shake dice and say “come on seven,” I exclaim “come on snake eyes.”

            As far as guest posts, I submitted one. I’m also working on another titled “The Experts are Idiots!”

    • fragmentp52 February 22, 2023 at 12:34 am

      I would guess most modern people would define homosexuality as something like : two consenting adults, who are naturally attracted to their own gender, who wish to commit to each other in a lifelong, loving relationship, which may include most or all of the things that heterosexual couples enjoy, including sex acts.”

      This concept would be pretty much unheard of in the ANE, as would the concept of young Christian women today dating a few men to try and find Mr Right, and many others. So many things are different now compared to then. If the definition above is around the mark, then the Bible cannot condemn homosexuality, because you cannot condemns something which you don’t know exists. The Biblical writers condemned what they knew of certain same sex acts, which is not IMO the same as condemning homosexuality. The last time I looked, relationships are about a lot more than sex.

  5. giselebendor February 19, 2023 at 1:51 pm

    Let’s see if I understood:meaning and context interdependence are perfectly clear issues.Your post also explains it beautifully.Here is a question about a possible example:
    Still stuck with Judas,the question I pose is how did Jesus know he will be “betrayed”( and obviously had no desire to avoid it),therefore communicating directly and publicly with Judas about his upcoming “betrayal” that he had no intention to avoid. The ominous silence and inaction of the apostles at the table is notable.
    If one is a believer, it would suffice to say that Jesus,by his very divine nature,was omniscient.
    A historian,though,would ask how the confidential information of the alleged High Priest and Judas plot could have leaked to Jesus before the Last Supper.Moreover,one might ask if the trial actually happened.I don’t see the High Priests leaving the Seder and all their assembled families to speak to a dubious Galilean.on account of Passover,they couldn’t even deal with it.They could not know that they would succeed through Pilate(aren’t we told that Pilate was sympathetic?). And many other questions.

    My question is:is this a good example for the meanings in context issue?

    Can you give an additional Biblical example ,particularly if mine is not relevant.

    • BDEhrman February 21, 2023 at 9:51 pm

      Yes, I think what you’re showing is that the story works as a story (kind of) even though it’s historically not plausible. So as a story it’s a story, not history. That means you need to read it as a story. But since this story has historical roots, if we want to understand what happened, we need to figure out the issues of plausibility to figure out what happened. To figure figure out *plausibility* though is REALLY hard with texts written 2000 years ago about situatoins that happened 2000 years ago: we have to *imagine* what was plausible given our incredibly scant knowledge of the time and place.

  6. MarkWiz February 19, 2023 at 3:01 pm

    When I was still a deacon writing homilies, I sometimes felt as if I were “inspired” by something higher than myself. Whether I was or not, I never felt as if I transcended my own beliefs, frame of reference, history, culture, or moment in the vast history of mankind. No one can intentionally write something timeless; only subsequent generations can make that evaluation. And mankind will cherry pick all of it for what seems relevant at the time. I taught Brit Lit for 36 years; some look at Shakespeare as ageless. But one can never fully understand it without examining the Elizabethan mind and culture while realize some elements of them have endured while others have not. The Bard, like Biblical authors, was writing for a specific audience unified in time, place, and culture. Trying to apply every word, line, and concept to modern time periods is a misinterpretation of the work.

  7. R_Gerl February 19, 2023 at 3:48 pm

    I thought it would be interesting to see how Artificial Intelligence (AI) interprets parables from the New Testament, the Gospel of Thomas, and creates new parables or sayings based on them. AI seems to know the context already. The link below shows my requests to OpenAI and its responses. The responses are astounding and will blow everyone on this blog away; these are a must read. The very first one explains the parable of men and lions eating each other in the Gospel of Thomas. Another one says, “The truth shall set you free, but first it will challenge you.”. Click the link to read them:

    A blind man was wandering in the dark and stumbled upon a candle. He held it close and felt the warmth, but he couldn’t see the light. A passerby asked him why he was holding the candle, and the blind man replied, “It gives me hope that there is light in the world, even though I cannot see it myself.”

  8. TomTerrific February 19, 2023 at 7:42 pm

    I just finished your Moses course, which I thought was thorough and very thoughtful and understanding. One question was left hanging: Do you consider Moses historical or fictional or a mixture? With several hundred years between the events and their recording, there is lots of room for fiction.

    Another unrelated question is from my wife. She is interested in knowing how forty became a special number. The Religious News Service had a very nice article on you. You should share it with us.

    • BDEhrman February 27, 2023 at 7:13 pm

      I don’t think any of our stories of Moses are historical. There may have been a figure who led a small group out of slaves out of Egypt, but I’d say the Moses we hear about from the Bible is a fictioius character.
      Good questoin about the forty. I’m not sure why!
      Article: thanks.

  9. AngeloB February 19, 2023 at 11:10 pm

    I enjoyed reading Professor Siker’s posts on here. Looking forward to hearing him discuss this issue further on the MJ podcast! 🙂

  10. fragmentp52 February 20, 2023 at 4:33 am

    Thank you Bart. Jeff Siker has posted on this blog before, on this very topic, so I’ll be watching the MJ interview with great interest.

    As an aside, can you tell me the name of the first few seconds of classical music on the MJ YouTube videos ?

    Thank you.

    • BDEhrman February 27, 2023 at 7:14 pm

      Ah, I forget what they are! My director of marketing chose it. But I like it!

  11. Elupe February 20, 2023 at 11:15 am

    I struggle with this view. Do you think it’s perfectly rational for a Christian today to believe God ordained more or less six injunctions against homosexuality in his holy book but does not consider homosexuality a sin today? Wouldn’t silence on the issue be a more rational approach for God?

    • BDEhrman February 27, 2023 at 7:16 pm

      Well, the same God made injunctions against working on Sabbath and eating pork and wearing cloth made of two types of fabric and women speaking aloud in church, so if you believe in the Bible I think you can still think that it was speaking to its time but that parts of it are no longer relevant.

  12. seahawk41 February 20, 2023 at 6:20 pm

    Last week I ran across a NYTimes article about the impending sale of the Codex Sassoon, describing it as the oldest nearly complete Hebrew Bible. I’ve been aware of the Leningrad and Allepo codices for some time, but had never heard of this one. I’d like to hear your take on the significance of this codex. I presume the reason it has not been used for Bible translations is that it has been in a private collection. Do you think that it might have an impact on Bible scholarship, at least if it becomes generally available?

    • BDEhrman February 27, 2023 at 7:17 pm

      Yes, I was surprised by that too. I wasn’t sure what to make of it. I’m not a Hebrew Bible person, but Leningradensis is the oldest complete manuscript — so I don’t know what they meant.

  13. RD February 20, 2023 at 7:02 pm

    On that note, in Mark 10:18 Jesus’ initial response to the rich young ruler’s question was “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.” He had earlier been pronounced the Son of God. Surely the Son of God would be “good” too? What did he mean by this?

    • BDEhrman February 27, 2023 at 7:18 pm

      Well, it appears to mean either that he doesn’t consider himself good or doesn’t consider himself God. Very interesting!

      • Duke12 March 14, 2023 at 1:29 pm

        Or maybe he’s implying that the rich young ruler unknowingly stated an “out of the mouths of babes” kind of truth? That Jesus is good, and therefore he is the Son of God? Wouldn’t that interpretation fit Mark’s “messianic secret” theme? As in: everyone seems to know who this guy is except the people who are supposed to know it? (Religious leaders, disciples? — including Peter who says it, but still doesn’t seem to understand it).

        • BDEhrman March 21, 2023 at 2:28 pm

          Do you mean Jesus is replying: Hey, how would *you* know that I’m good? I’ve never heard it read that way. I guess you’d have to find some reason to think so, other than being uncomfortable with the implications of a straightforward reading where the next statement (only god…) seems to be a corrective.

  14. boriswang28 February 22, 2023 at 1:24 am

    Hi Dr. Ehrman, want to get your thoughts on the whether the historical Jesus actually said the sayings about “pray and you will receive whatever” and “have faith and you can do anything” (Matthew 7:7-8, Matthew 17:2, Matthew 18:19, Mark 11:24, etc.).

    Putting aside the obvious problems with these teaching, both from a practical and a ethical perpective (how many sick children received prayers instead of medical treatment?), my hypothesis is that these were not actually taught by Jesus.

    Reason #1: These saying contradict historical Jesus’ main message about the coming Kingdom of God. Why would Jesus say “there will be great tribulations” or “you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death” if all these hardship can just be prayed away if you have enough faith? It just doesn’t fit the theme of endure the world now and wait for the world to come.

    Reason #2: Pray if you have faith (or some kind of secret knowledge) would be a great saying to include in the Gospel of Thomas. If anywhere, these beliefs about faith/prayer power should fit the most in the theme of Thomas. But this type of saying wasn’t in Thomas at all. Continued…

    • boriswang28 February 22, 2023 at 1:35 am

      Even the one saying in Thomas related to a prayer/faith saying in the Synoptics was different:

      Thomas 48: “Jesus said, “If two make peace with each other in this one house, they will say to the
      mountain, ‘Move Away,’ and it will move away.”

      Matthew 18:19: “Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven.”

      In Matthew the condition for wish making was prayer, whereas in Thomas the condition was making peace with eachother – which actually fits more closely with Jesus’ general moral teachings.

      These two reasons make me be skeptical that the historical Jesus actually taught these sayings (despite it being in all 4 gospels). Could it be possible that these type of sayings was added in by later followers (but earlier than Mark) to encourage early believers to not lose faith in Jesus? Obviously the time in between Jesus’ death and the destruction of the temple was a very disappointing and frustrating time for the followers of Jesus so it’s natural that many would have lost faith (and maybe stopped praying). So these faith/prayer sayings was then added to promote and encourage faith?

    • BDEhrman February 25, 2023 at 3:46 pm

      Yes, I too doubt if Jesus said such things, and your first reason is a good one. My view is that Thomas was not particularly intersted in miracles, or answers to prayer — at leeast as seen in the Gospel as it has come down to us.

      • boriswang28 February 26, 2023 at 2:53 pm

        Thanks for your response! Just 2 quick follow ups:

        1) Which do you think is the earlier form of the saying: Thomas 48 or Matthew 18:19?

        2) What do you think of the rationale I laid out on potentially why these “have faith and you can do anything” were added into Jesus’ mouth? (to encourage faith and prayer in the early believers)”

        Also the more I learn using the historical-critical method about what’s likely authentic sayings of the Bible, the more I realized that most of the common criticisms of Christianity/Bible, such as Trinity, misogyny (Paul’s letters), “pray and you can receive anything” are actually not the original teachings, which is quite sad.

        • BDEhrman February 27, 2023 at 8:04 pm

          1. Matt 18:19 2. Yes, to urge and encourage people to have faith.

          • boriswang28 March 26, 2023 at 1:05 am

            Hey Dr. Ehrman, I asked ChatGPT-4 the same question I asked you and here it is response:

            Your skepticism about the historical Jesus teaching the sayings related to prayer and faith granting wishes or moving mountains is a valid viewpoint to consider. As you’ve pointed out, these sayings seem to contradict Jesus’ message of enduring hardships and the coming Kingdom of God. Your two reasons for questioning the authenticity of these sayings provide a good foundation for further analysis.

            Reason #1: Contradiction with Jesus’ main message
            It’s true that these sayings seem to conflict with Jesus’ teachings about the tribulations and hardships his followers would face. If prayers could solve all problems, it would indeed seem inconsistent for Jesus to emphasize the importance of enduring suffering in this world.

            Reason #2: Absence from the Gospel of Thomas
            The absence of these sayings from the Gospel of Thomas could be seen as evidence that they were not part of the original teachings of Jesus. The Gospel of Thomas, being a collection of sayings attributed to Jesus without a narrative context, might have been expected to include such teachings if they were central to Jesus’ message.

          • BDEhrman March 29, 2023 at 7:01 pm

            Great! Soon I won’t have to respond to blog comments!! But, well, Reason #2 is bizarre…

          • boriswang28 March 26, 2023 at 1:05 am

            However, it’s important to note that the absence of these sayings from the Gospel of Thomas doesn’t necessarily prove that Jesus didn’t teach them. The Gospel of Thomas is itself a controversial and debated text, and its relationship to the Synoptic Gospels is complex. Additionally, the presence of similar sayings in multiple Gospels does lend some weight to their authenticity, even if their consistency with Jesus’ overall message is debated.

            As for the possibility that these sayings were added by later followers to encourage faith and prayer, it’s plausible that early Christians might have emphasized certain teachings or adapted them to suit the needs of their communities. The development of the Christian faith and the composition of the Gospels were influenced by various factors, including the historical context, the perspectives of the authors, and the evolving beliefs of the early Christian communities.

            In conclusion, your skepticism about the historical Jesus teaching these sayings is valid, and your reasons for questioning their authenticity are well-founded. However, determining the original teachings of Jesus is a complex task, and scholars continue to debate the authenticity and interpretation of various sayings attributed to him. It’s essential to consider multiple perspectives and sources when examining the teachings of the historical Jesus.

          • BDEhrman March 29, 2023 at 7:02 pm

            Ah, OK, better. What if a fundamentalist asks a similar question??

          • boriswang28 April 10, 2023 at 12:08 am

            So I asked ChatGPT how to answer this question from a fundamentalist perspective, here is it’s response:

            As a Fundamentalist Christian perspective, we take the Bible as the inerrant, inspired Word of God, which means that every passage within it is considered accurate and true. Therefore, when we read the passages in Matthew 7:7-8, Matthew 17:2, Matthew 18:19, and Mark 11:24, we trust that they accurately represent what Jesus said and taught.

            Regarding your concerns:

            Reason #1: While Jesus did speak of the coming tribulations and persecution, this does not necessarily contradict the teachings on prayer and faith. Jesus taught that God is our loving Father who desires to provide for our needs and to answer our prayers. The passages about prayer and faith are not guarantees that we will never face difficulties, but rather that God will be with us through these trials and that He can provide for us in miraculous ways when we have faith in Him.

            Reason #2: The Gospel of Thomas is not part of the canonical Bible and is considered by many to be a Gnostic work. As Fundamentalist Christians, we do not rely on it for our understanding of Jesus’ teachings. Continued…

          • boriswang28 April 10, 2023 at 12:09 am

            The fact that certain teachings are not included in the Gospel of Thomas does not undermine their validity in the canonical Gospels.

            It is important to remember that the Bible, as a whole, teaches that prayer and faith are essential aspects of our relationship with God. These teachings were not added later by Jesus’ followers, but were an integral part of His message during His time on earth.

            In conclusion, as a Fundamentalist Christian, we believe that the historical Jesus truly taught the sayings about prayer and faith as recorded in the Gospels. We understand that Jesus’ teachings on the power of prayer and faith are not contradictory but are complementary to His teachings on tribulations and perseverance. The message of Jesus is not that life will be easy for believers, but that through faith and prayer, we can experience God’s presence and provision in our lives, even in the midst of trials and difficulties.

  15. pkoutoul February 22, 2023 at 8:45 am

    This is a great post. Thank you for helping me clarify my thoughts on meaning and the relatively recent ascendance of belief as the holy grail of Christianity. I left the faith precisely because I refused to pretend to believe things are not believable.

  16. OmarRobb February 22, 2023 at 10:18 pm

    Hi Bart,

    The previous question and this one aren’t argumentative, there are just for clarification.

    Do atheists and liberal Christians have a clear vision of where to draw the line?

    This is not an ethical matter, as ethics are subjective. This is a philosophical matter and I will put two lines under philosophy: Science cannot provide conclusions on the level of Good or Bad; but it can provide many other conclusions including useful or harmful. Good or Bad are provided by doctrines, which can be based on religion, philosophy or Authoritative leadership.

    Now … would the community one day legalize the marriage among first-degree relatives (as brothers and sisters) on the ground that the community’s traditions shouldn’t be allowed to stop true love between two consenting adults.

    I assume that all fundamentalists of almost all religions will be opposing this legalization and even the sexual relationship itself.


    • OmarRobb February 22, 2023 at 10:21 pm


      I also assume that the late communists opposed to these relationships: although they didn’t believe in God or any religion, but they believed (or they were forced to accept) that Marx and Lenin books are without errors (equal to “God inspired texts”) and these books did provide many doctrines that managed to draw a line.

      So, would atheists and liberals stand shoulder to shoulder with the others in opposing the legalization of this marriage?

      Do atheists and liberals have the philosophical doctrine that justify their position? Is this doctrine solid and can withstand the change of time, or is it weak and fragile?

      There are many other weird relationships that are still illegal (or at least it is still not accepted by the community), but there are some people that are very involved in them.

      So, do atheists and liberals have a clear vision of where to draw the line, or is it turtles all the way down?

      • RICHWEN90 February 26, 2023 at 11:42 am

        Marriages between close relatives bring up the problem of recessive characteristics. On purely biological grounds, if there are offspring, the practice would be questionable. But if there’s no intention to have children, and both parties are willing… who cares? Why SHOULD anyone care?

        • OmarRobb March 1, 2023 at 9:24 am

          Many might not care, but the dynamic of the social system might!

          This dynamic is so complex that playing with it without clarity might result in a serious hit back. Also, this was just an example, and there is a long list: marriage between humans and different species, group marriages, etc.

          When Obama won the vote against Romney, the loser party felt sad, and they cheered themselves up saying hard-luck we will win next time. Then they went home, and life moved on.

          But if “one day” the Liberals managed to win a vote on first-degree-relative marriages, the losers probably won’t say to themselves hard-luck, but they would probably decide to fight nails and teeth against the community as they would think that a fundamental issue has again been breached.

          So, if Liberals don’t have clear vision of where to draw the line then this is going to be a serious problem as the fundamentalists aren’t heading yet to Mars and they are getting more stronger and organized day after day due to their fear from the intentions of the Liberals.

          As I said, playing without clarity with the social system might result in a serious hit back.

  17. jbhodge February 23, 2023 at 8:29 pm

    Ask a fundamentalist, “Is sin an act or an intention”? Their answer will always boil down as Sin is an Act.. If it was not an act, then they would have nothing to compare themselves above everyone else being the epitimy of Romans 2:17-24. They of course will deny that they are not the “Jews” in the passage, pointing out that Paul was not referring to “Christians”, but was referring to those Jews who had not converted to Christianity.

    It further proves the self serving “context” that Christian fundamentalism it rooted in.

    • Okgo5555 February 27, 2023 at 6:36 pm

      I would say that, theologically and exegetically speaking, many believers, fundamentalists or not, have bad definitions of what “sin” is. In America, the sense in which “sin” is generally understood is simply “doing something bad” and i’m not sure that is what (most of) the authors were ever intending originally.

  18. Okgo5555 February 24, 2023 at 11:02 am

    In regards to translation, is Philemon 4-7 as incomprehensible in Koine as it seems to be in most English translations?

    I have the standard 2 years of NT greek and i find this passage to be nearly totally confusing. What on earth is Paul *trying* to say? I roughly translated the greek words into English as a cipher and then diagrammed the KJV as a comparison to find words to augment the sentence into anything comprehensible. When i reconstructed that passage into something resembling a sentence, it ended up being nearly EXACTLY, word for word what the Common English Version’s reading is. Is that a reasonable understanding of that passage?

    Of course its possible that i simply don’t read Koine greek very well and perhaps Paul’s intention is obvious in the original language, but i have always uad such a hard time trying to understand what Paul was saying.

    • BDEhrman February 27, 2023 at 6:19 pm

      I”ve never found it incomprehensible, but then I guess incomprensibility is in the mind of the read! 🙂 You might look at my discussion of the book on my textbook The New Testament: A Historical Introduciton to the Early Xn Writings. IN fact, maybe I should post on it!

      • Okgo5555 February 27, 2023 at 6:32 pm

        Well, i suppose that’s the difference between a lifetime NT scholar and someone who was raised as a hardcore KJV-only, IFB jagaloon like me. What initally drew my interest in the passage was how flippin’ difficult it was to read in the KJV in ENGLISH, and that may have skewed my plain understanding of it in english in other translations (don’t get me wrong, i’m not anywhere near a KJV position, that is just how i was *raised*.) I suppose the nature of my question was: in your understanding of the original language, after I went the all the goofiness to independently land on the rendering that matches the CEV almost word-for-word; is that a good/reasonable rending of the text in English If i got it right or close to right, should i feel accomplished or disappointed that what i was looking for was sitting on my shelf in a seldomly used translation this whole time?! 😆

        • BDEhrman February 28, 2023 at 9:04 pm

          I’m afraid I don’t know the CEV translation of the passage. But if you want a good accurate one, I’d recommend the NRSV.

          • Okgo5555 February 28, 2023 at 9:17 pm

            Yes. My Oxford Annotated 5th edition NRSV and NET are always withIn arms length of me WHILE I’m at my office/study.

            I had a similar discussion with my fundy minister brother. Even in the NRSV, v. 6 particularly seems nonsensical. Yet, while vv. 4-7 as a pericope makes sense in general, i doubt that anyone would understand what you or i were getting at- specifically- if we presented v. 6 as a complete thought (as it is in the NRSV). When i dug into it, i found that, at the scholarly level, v. 6 seemed to be difficult to translate too, so i was curious if you had any insight. Thanks for the responsiveness. I value your work very much.

  19. apmorgan March 15, 2023 at 9:37 pm

    I listened to the Siker interview yesterday. Overall I liked it, although not everything accords with my experience, e.g. the claim that convervative Christians appeal to Leviticus more frequently than Paul. Certainly my view — when I was young and devoted and thought homosexual activity was a sin — was that if _the_ chief expert on the “end of the Law” thought it was still bad, we should probably take notice!

    At the same time, I rejected the bigotry of those who cast homosexuals as particularly heinous, as on a different plane of sinfulness to everyone else. (Does not Paul begin Romans 2 with that very point?) So I was something of a centrist, and argued with both sides. As to the modern concept of sexual orientation, I think modern fundamentalists lack it almost as much as ancient people did, except that the fundamentalist is in denial of their ignorance (being at least _exposed_ to the idea), whereas the ancient person had nothing to deny.

    BTW, I posted a question in a comment on Douglas Wadeson’s 2/18/2013 guest post, asking if you’ve seen a certain recent production pertinent to sexuality, gender and Shakespeare. Up to you if you check it out.

    • BDEhrman March 21, 2023 at 2:37 pm

      I think he was only referring to whom they quote for the quesiton of homosexual activity, not in general; my experience is the same as his on that point. Sorry — missed it!

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