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Jesus’ Death; Good Scholars; and Writing the First Book: Readers’ Mailbag May 28, 2016

I have three rather wide ranging questions to deal with in this week’s Readers’ Mailbag: one on the understanding of Christ’s death as a sacrifice (or not); one on whom I like to read among NT scholars; and one on how to publish a scholarly book.

This should be fun!  If you have a question you’d like me to address, simply ask it in any comment on any post (whether it’s relevant to the post or not).



Would you agree with the statement of scholars like Marcus Borg that Jesus died BECAUSE of the sins of the world and not FOR the sins of the world? Scholars like Borg are quite emphatic that the death of Jesus is not a sacrifice in the way that most (i.e. fundamentalist) Christians understand it: Jesus died for our sins and by believing in Jesus we gain eternal life. Rather, Jesus’ death is understood as a WAY to God: That by following the life of Jesus and offering up our suffering to God we walk in the footsteps of Jesus. Thoughts? Thanks.

Marcus Borg’s books include Reading the Bible Again For the First Time: Taking the Bible Seriously But Not Literally and Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time: The Historical Jesus and the Heart of Contemporary Faith.



I have to admit, I don’t read Marcus Borg’s books (see the next question).  There’s a clear reason for that.  He published only one book scholarly book, and that was his original PhD dissertation.  I frankly didn’t find it very persuasive.  All of his many other books were written for a general audience, and scholars almost never learn anything from that kind of book.  And so as a rule most hard-core scholars don’t read trade books.

But as a result, I didn’t know that Marcus had taken this line on the death of Jesus.   The main point to stress, though, is that he is making this claim about the death of Jesus because of his personal theology rather than as an interpreter of the New Testament.  He, like many other progressive and clear thinkers who are committed to the Christian tradition, was somewhat offended by the early Christian doctrine(s) of atonement, which indicate that Christ had to die in order to placate an angry God or in order to reverse the consequences of sin – that his death was some kind of human sacrifice (a rather repulsive idea to many people today: do you mean God has to kill somebody before he can forgive us?  Is that how the world works?  Is that how we ourselves should handle friends and family who “sin” against us?)

And so Marcus has altered the early Christian teaching into something more palatable.  I think that’s commendable.  His idea of why Jesus died is indeed much more satisfying — to me at least.  But it’s not at all what the authors of the New Testament thought.  They thought, and explicitly said, on numerous occasions, that Christ died for sins, in order to bring atonement, reconciliation, redemption, salvation.  For them, without Jesus’ death, sin would not be taken care of and people would be lost.

In the end, Marcus was advocating a non-biblical view, but one that is infinitely better to most progressive, modern minds.



I’d love to hear from you about other scholars that YOU like to read. In my training, I’ve been influenced by predominantly Catholic Scholars: Raymond Brown, Sandra Schneider, John Meier, Dan Harrington, SJ (who was my teacher while in Divinity School), et al, but it’s sometimes difficult to find other people to read who come from other traditions/non-traditions.



            Yes, these are all fine scholars: Brown and Meier, in particular, were stars on the Catholic horizon.  There are lots of really superb scholars whose work I appreciate very much, who have advanced scholarship in significant ways.   But it all depends on how “deep” your reading can be (deep scholarship? Not so deep scholarship? Trade books?)

So, as I pointed out in the previous answer, I don’t read trade books very often.  And the scholarship I read is almost always what is most closely related to my current book project.  But I can tell you whom I think are among the best scholars to read.   This is a highly selective list (and only English-language writers): there are lots and lots of names that I should give but because of space (and probably limited interest on your part) I won’t give.  So if someone is left off this list (many are) (rather, most are), it is not meant to be a commentary on how valuable I think his or her contributions are.

For the Gospels and Jesus, I think E. P. Sanders is absolutely groundbreaking and essential.  Among the best in the field are Dale Allison, Paula Fredriksen, Amy-Jill Levine; highly controversial but always interesting is John Dominic Crossan.   For Paul’s life and letters, again, E. P. Sanders.  But also people like John Barclay, J. Louis Martyn, and Dale Martin.   For early Christian Gnosticism:  Bentley Layton, Karen King, David Brakke, and Marvin Meyer.  For early Christian apocrypha: Francois Bovon, Tony Burke, Paul Foster.  For New Testament manuscripts (textual criticism): Eldon Epp, Mike Holmes, and David Parker.

Well, there are lots of other areas and lots and lots of other fine scholars.  So happy reading!



In this post you say that you “absolutely know how one gets his or her first scholarly book published,” and I believe you. Can you write more about that or point me toward some other resources?



So I’m afraid the answer is both good news and bad news.  The good news is that there is one clear cut way to get a first scholarly book published.  The bad news is that it involves getting a PhD in the field of study.   I know some lay people don’t like to hear it, they don’t think it should be this way, they don’t think it’s fair.   They think publishing a scholarly book should be like learning how to fix your plumbing – you shouldn’t have to be a professional in order to do it.  All you need to do is figure out what needs to be done and then do it.  But it’s absolutely not like that.

The only way to be able to become a bona fide, trained, competent scholar is to do a PhD in the field.  There is no way around it.  I know dozens of people who have tried an alternative route (reading massively on their own).  And it just doesn’t work.  Sorry!  But it doesn’t work.  PhD training is more than reading dozens, hundreds, thousands of books and articles.  It is being trained in a field by bona fide experts who direct you, interact with you, and challenge you; it is learning how to interact with peers and colleagues in intellectual discourse that is both guided and focused; it is taking seminars for two or three years, taking written and oral exams, composing a dissertation prospectus, writing a dissertation for a couple of years, getting feedback at every point from a real expert, defending the dissertation in an oral exam, and lots of other things.  You just can’t replicate this on your own.

And so, the short answer to the question: the way to get the first scholarly book published, for almost all scholars, is to publish a revised version of the dissertation.

If you don’t belong yet, JOIN THE BLOG!!!   It doesn’t cost much, every penny goes to charity, and you get stuff like this frickin’ almost every day!!!



A Personal Note and a Bit of a Bummer
The Resurrection and the Beginning of the Church



  1. Avatar
    Wilusa  May 28, 2016

    On the third response: I don’t see anything surprising about this. In fact, I’m guessing a reputable publisher wouldn’t accept a trade book in a field like this unless the author had already published scholarly books (or there was some other reason for thinking it would sell, such as the author’s being a “celebrity”). Am I right?

  2. talmoore
    talmoore  May 28, 2016

    Dr. Ehrman, seeing that you’ve included the Jewish Amy-Jill Levine on your list of must read NT scholars, may I add to your list Geza Vermes (who had the unique distinction of being both Jewish and Catholic) and Shaye Cohen (who isn’t a NT scholar per se but his scholarship does deal with Judaism ca. the time of Jesus).

    Also, the fact that publishing a scholarly book on Jesus requires the proper academic bona fides is the reason I’m writing a novel on Jesus instead. I’m not expecting it to be taken seriously as a work of scholarship. And I’m under no pretense that I’m a Jesus scholar to any extent. I’m a social scientist who studies the evolution of morality and moral systems, not a PhD in the New Testament. And that’s primarily why I’m interested in Christianity and religion in general, as part of my work in researching how moral behaviors originate, mutate and disseminate.

    • Bart
      Bart  May 29, 2016

      Yes, thanks. Vermes was a superb scholar; Shaye hasn’t written on the NT (much), but his work on 2nd Temple Judaism is outstanding.

  3. epicurus
    epicurus  May 28, 2016

    “PhD training is more than reading dozens, hundreds, thousands of books and articles”.
    I experienced this principle even at the undergraduate level. In a mid level undergrad philosophy class on modern philosophy I took, there was a fellow who was in his late 20’s who would often brag about how much he had studied and read philosophy on his own over the years, and was always commenting and adding things in class to what the prof was saying. The problem was, the prof would almost always have to stop and correct him.
    Reading tons of books on your own with no intelligent feedback or challenges to your interpretations and conclusions can often result in a false sense of mastery of the topic.

  4. Avatar
    pdahl  May 28, 2016

    Hi Bart,

    The first reader question and your cogent response were most interesting and timely for me, especially since I was just asked a few weeks ago to present an evolutionary geoscientist’s view of substitutionary atonement theology to an adult Sunday School class. I accepted this assignment (from a retired Lutheran minister) with some trepidation, however, not wanting to step needlessly on anyone’s toes, belief-wise. Of course, as a once-geology professor (now retired), I came prepared with a summary handout for the group, which included reference to the views (among other scholars) of Marcus Borg and E.P. Sanders, both mentioned in your Q and A. My handout was entitled “Some Modern Perspectives on Traditional Atonement Theology”. If your reader with the question would be interested in a copy, I’d be most happy to provide it to him/her, if you could suggest the best way to accomplish that. It’s a 6-page handout in three 2-page parts.

    The opening 2-pager is entitled “Toward Christian Substitutes for Substitutionary Atonement?”, which seeks to give any “sacrifice-for-sin” doubters out there some “room” to view the healing work of Jesus in other ways and yet remain loyal to their Christian tradition. It also sets up the subsequent summarization of historical, theological, and scientific problems that many thoughtful 21st century people have with substitutionary atonement theology — especially those who struggle to remain loyal to their Christian tradition, be they mainliners or fundamentalists.

    Regarding the historical and theological problems, my second 2-page document leans on the recently-expressed views of the late Lutheran/Episcopal theologian Marcus Borg, to whom your reader and you alluded. This section (adapted from the Chapter 7 title of his 2014 book, Convictions) is entitled “Jesus’s Death on the Cross Matters — But Not Because He Paid for Our Sins: A Historical-Theological Reconsideration of Atonement.” His full chapter is well worth the read; ‘my’ excerpt simply parrots a blog synopsis of his and adds my brief commentary at the end.

    Regarding the *scientific* problems with substitutionary atonement theology, my last 2-page summary draws from the work of NT scholar E.P. Sanders (mentioned in your reader response), Catholic theologian/paleontologist Daryl P. Domning, and my own commentary (having integrated biological evolution into my historical geology class). This section is whimsically entitled “Saint Paul Meets Charles Darwin, Metaphorically Speaking: A Theological-Scientific Consensus on Atonement?” From Sanders, I surmise that ‘Paulinism’ starts with the Christ event and works *backwards* to define Man’s plight; from Darwin himself, I surmise that ‘Darwinism’ starts from the Dawn of Life and works *forward* to define Man’s plight. Where Paul and Darwin meet is where I see some room for theological-scientific consensus.

    Well, the response of the Sunday School class seemed quite positive, judging from the lively discussion that ensued, which meant we only got through the relatively innocuous first 2 paragraphs of the introduction. So, it was tentatively agreed that we would meet again in the fall to discuss some of the more controversial stuff. Again, my overall goal in accepting the Sunday School invitation in the first place was to provide thinking people with good reasons to stay in their Christian tradition, rather than to leave it if/because they are cognitively struggling with those heavily-emphasized “payment” understandings of Jesus’s death, which we all seem to have learned as kids. I think the problem is that those understandings made more sense in the 1st century than they do in the 21st. So, to the extent that payment understandings were metaphorical to begin with — after all, Paul himself never seems to have metaphor he didn’t like — maybe we just need some new metaphors for a new century!

  5. Avatar
    SidDhartha1953  May 28, 2016

    At one time I’d have been among the offended at your last answer, but having seen, through my reading and listening to competent scholars, I have come to appreciate the result of their training and experience. I also experienced recently what the product of a bright but non-scholarly mind looks like by comparison when I started reading Eric Hoffer’s “The True Believer.” Hoffer was no doubt a brilliant man, but his reliance on his own commonsense, rather than scholarly, assessment of mass movements betrays itself from time to time. I’m sure I shall offend more than a few devotees of the Longshoreman Philosopher, but so be it.

    • talmoore
      talmoore  May 29, 2016

      As someone who loves Hoffer’s work I can’t say I’m offended. He does tend to ramble and his work does lack a certain academic rigor. Having said that, I’d bet most academics would give up a kidney to be able to write as eloquently and insightfully as Hoffer does.

  6. Avatar
    llamensdor  May 28, 2016

    Marcus Borg was a lovely and charming man, adored by many Christian scholars. However, by the end of his life, as evidenced by his final book, “Convictions,” he had translated Christianity into secular, liberal/progressive philosophy and politics. He might well have supported Bernie Sanders.

  7. LewsTherin
    LewsTherin  May 28, 2016

    “Highly controversial but always interesting is John Dominic Crossan”

    Had to smile at that comment … Like Robert.M.Price, Crossan has a non standard view I enjoy reading. Was surprised not to see Dan Brown on your recommended reading ( ducks for cover ).

    The mention of Marcus Borg tripped a memory of a recent lecture you gave on “How Jesus became God”, You mentioned “The Jesus Seminar” and that whilst you were not surprised that they thought only 18% of Jesus sayings were authentic, you thought they just had the wrong 18%. If you could possibly (in a future post) mention a few of the differences of what you believe to be authentic in comparison to the seminar it would be greatly appreciated.

    Many thanks J.

    • LewsTherin
      LewsTherin  May 29, 2016

      Just been reading some older blog posts, it seems you have already written about what you think Jesus really said and did in your book “Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium”. This appears to be one of the two trade books you have written that I have not read.

      Red faced at asking a question you answered some 17 years ago I shall grab a copy from Amazon, then go stand in the corner sucking my thumb. (New students … Ha ).

    • Bart
      Bart  May 29, 2016

      Interesting idea. Short story: they were convinced that all the apocalyptic sayings were not, and could not be, things Jesus really said.

  8. Avatar
    Jana  May 28, 2016

    Again trying to connect the dots … I get that when the Apocalypse didn’t happen as the Apocalyptic Jesus had predicted that a kind of reinterpretation of events including the Resurrection took place. But why? Why didn’t the fledgling fringe then Jesus-Jewish (my term) sect simply die out? What was so seductive about it that people altered (I think radically) Jesus’s original intent and message? or should I simply wait for your next book? 🙂 Was it Paul who linked the Jesus’s death and Resurrection to “Dying for Our Sins and the “Sins of the World” (recalling my catechism)?”

    • Bart
      Bart  May 29, 2016

      Ah, interesting question. I’ll add it to the mailbag, since there have been some interesting attempts to answer it.

  9. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  May 29, 2016

    Friday’s mailbox is always “fun” reading and today’s blog is no exception.

    The atonement, as it was taught to me, is hard to grasp since it means that God is either a sadist torturing His son or a masochist torturing Himself. I agree that the whole concept is “offensive.” Surely, ancient people made up this theology in an attempt to rationalize the death of Jesus.

    The trouble with the scholarly, in contrast to the trade, books is that they are really hard to understand because of their formal, stilted style. Isn’t part of really understanding something being able to explain it clearly like you do so well in your trade books?

    • Bart
      Bart  May 29, 2016

      YEs, but if you’re going to communicate something *complicated* and you need to do it in, say, 20 pages instead of 200 pages, then you need to make assumptions that your readers can be expected to know and share and speak a kind of shorthand for those in the know. It would be pretty boring for experts in the Bible to read an interpretation of Mark 1:41 that began by explaining how many books are in the Bible, which Gospel this one was, how it was written in Greek, what the Greek language was like, how mistakes were made in the manuscripts, etc. Instead, the article might simply explain (for example) who οργισθεις came to be changed to σπλαγνισθεις — too people who already know most of the issues involved. I think it’s like that in every field from classics to chemistry to psychology to linguistics etc….

  10. Avatar
    jdubbs  May 29, 2016

    Thank you for answering my questions professor and the author recommendations! I’ve read a number of those authors but a few I have not, so I will get to work!

    Follow up on the atonement question: You state that the gospel writers explicitly state that Jesus died FOR sin. As a NT scholar, how do you determine if what the gospel writers are saying is literal or symbolic? I ask because there are many examples in the Gospels where things are written that were never meant to be taken literally but symbolically (in my opinion). For example, in the infancy narrative of Matthew there is a star over the place where Jesus is born. Was it actually there? Probably not, but was added by Matthew to emphasize the importance of Jesus and make a connection with other famous people (e.g. Hercules, Caesar Augustus) who were also born with stars over their heads. Same thing with Jesus’ family fleeing to Egypt or Jesus preaching on a mount. Did it literally happen? Probably not, but is a device Matthew is using to make a connection to Moses. Essentially, these are symbols that point to something else–and people reading them in the ancient world knew that.

    In the end, I’m very curious what exactly “Jesus died FOR sin” MEANS. Did the gospel writers think it was literal or symbolic? Personally, I think it makes a big difference, do you?

    • Bart
      Bart  May 29, 2016

      I can understand how a “star” could be either a literal star or a literary metaphor; but I’m not quite sure what you have in mind when you say that dying for sins could be either literal or metaphorical.

      • Avatar
        jdubbs  May 30, 2016

        Well, that makes two of us. 😉 Let me see if I can explain. Many of the events that happen in the gospels can be interpreted in a mixture of two ways. The Infancy Narratives can be viewed as literally happening (yup, they actually left Bethlehem in the middle of the night for Egypt) or a story that symbolizes the importance of Jesus. Miracles can be viewed as literally happening (a person received physical sight) or symbolically representing an new interior reality of that person. Again, the resurrection can be viewed as Jesus literally coming out of the tomb or viewed symbolically as an affirmation of Jesus’ teaching, that he was the messiah, etc.

        My question about Jesus “dying for sin” really centers on how literal the gospel writers understood that term. When I hear one of my students say, “but Jesus died for ME…” my first thought is, “No, no, the gospel writers never meant for you to understand that literally (i.e. Jesus going to the cross and dying for you and your sin), but symbolically (i.e. a showing the WAY to God).”

        At the end of the day, I find it very hard to comprehend that the gospel writers would take this very literal view of this understanding that Jesus died for sin and by believing in Jesus you gain eternal life. I just don’t think it’s that simple.

        I think the problem may be is that I’m doing too much theologizing and not focusing on the text, but I do think there’s good evidence in the gospels that the writers are pointing us to something that is not readily apparent if we take their statements at face value.

  11. Avatar
    Wilusa  May 29, 2016

    A question about “persecution”: You’ve told us Christians never did meet or hide in Rome’s Catacombs. I’m wondering how moviemakers – if they originated the idea – came to think of it. Just because the Catacombs were *there*, or because Christians really had met and hidden in Catacombs elsewhere in the Roman Empire?

    Two things got me to thinking about it. I know – because a TV series was once allowed to film an episode there – that there are Catacombs under, of all places, the Paris Opera! But I’m sure only that they exist, not how old they are or what they were used for.

    And…I know you won’t take this seriously! But I remember having read, many years ago, that when actress Susan Strasberg saw the Roman Catacombs, she had a powerful feeling that in a previous incarnation, she’d been a persecuted Christian hiding there. If there was any “truth” in that past-life memory, it would have had to refer, really, to some *other* Catacombs.

    • Bart
      Bart  May 29, 2016

      It’s because many of the Catacombs are in fact Christian, and so someone invented the idea that this is where the Christians were hanging out to avoid persecution.

  12. Avatar
    turbopro  May 29, 2016

    Dr Ehrman, a bit of an off topic question please: I just read your book, JBTG, and in it, on pg 189, you elaborated on Jesus’ discussion with Nicodemus in John 3:1-15, where the use of the word “anothen” for its double meaning is peculiar to Greek only. I wonder if other scholars, such as Dr Evans, Bauckham, et al, are aware of this use of a Greek word for its double meaning, which then suggests, if the conversation must make sense, that perhaps Christ could not have had this conversation with Nocodemus?

    • Bart
      Bart  May 29, 2016

      I”m not sure how they get around the problem. They may claim that Jesus and Nicodemus were speaking in Greek.

  13. Avatar
    Matt2h  May 29, 2016

    Borg and Crossan in their book on Paul stress that the substitutionary atonement view basically originated with Anselm of Canterbury less than a thousand years ago and that such an interpretation should not be imposed back onto Paul. They kind of say that Jesus died because of the sinfulness of the world but that Paul didn’t understand it as a necessary sacrifice for personal sins. As I recall.

    • Bart
      Bart  May 30, 2016

      Well, I think Romans 3:24-25 (among other passages) suggests otherwise.

      • Avatar
        pdahl  June 3, 2016

        I see your point here. Thanks for pointing us to this key Pauline passage. And yet, the NRSV’s footnote to Romans 3:25 does offer an alternative translation for the Greek hilasterion (“mercy seat”). That is, whereas the text nominally reads “… [Christ Jesus], whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement [hilasterion]…”, the NSRV footnote would have this passage read “…[Christ Jesus], whom God put forward as a place of atonement [hilasterion]…” So, according to theologian Stephen Finlan (in Problems with Atonement), Paul is metaphorically equating Jesus with the ‘mercy seat” — i.e., the top piece of the Hebrews’ ark of the covenant, where their priests conducted cleansing (with blood) on the Day of Atonement. In other words, according to Finlan, the hilasterion (“mercy seat”) is the *place* where an expiation (ritual cleansing) occurred, but it is not itself the *expiatory or sacrificial victim*. Traditional Christianity clearly went with the sacrificial victim interpretation, but in your opinion is it fair to allow for this softer alternative from the apparent ambiguity of translation arising in this one key Pauline passage?

        In asking this, I do realize that elsewhere Paul (1 Cor 15:3-5) does flat-out say that “…Christ died for our sins, in accordance with the scriptures…” Here there seems to be no translational wiggle room, but we certainly can push back on the “in accordance with the scriptures” part. That, however, is a separate discussion for another day.

        Thanks, as always, for any reply. And, I hope your back is getting better!

        • Bart
          Bart  June 4, 2016

          Even if he is an expiation (covering over sins) instead of a propitiation (solving God’s anger), it would be an “atonement” either way I think…. (His blood would be necessary for salvation)

        • Avatar
          Matt2h  June 26, 2016

          there are translational issues with hilasterion, pistis, and other terms. Arguably, what Paul is saying is that Jesus’ faithfulness to God, even unto death, and God’s vindication of Jesus discloses God’s justice. We can participate in salvation by imitating Christ’s example. It’seems not Faith in Jesus, but the faith of Jesus. God’s yes to Jesus shows the promise of conciliation in that salvation is possible apart from the law. Salvation is possible by imitating Christ’so example. If you Google it, John Cobb Jr has a very interesting analysis parsing the language of this.

  14. Avatar
    Iris Lohrengel  May 29, 2016

    Jesus died ‘because of’ our sins vs. Jesus died ‘for’ our sins. In English it is in fact translated that Jesus died ‘for’ our sins, but the original Greek varies. 1 Pe 3:18 uses the Greek ‘peri’, “of, for, concerning”, 1 Cor 15:3 uses the Greek ‘hyper’ (Strong’s Concordance G5228), ‘for’, and Rom 4:25 uses the Greek ‘dia’ (Strong’s Concordance G1223), “by, through, for, because of, by means of”. This is always the problem when translating a language, especially when it comes to prepositions. If more a word in one language has more than one meaning in another, what word is chosen often depends on the worldview of the translator. 1 Cor 15:1-3 says that ” For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures”. The reference to Scripture is un-Pauline. This is Matthew’s language and proto-orthodox language, linking Jesus to Jewish scripture, culture, and belief system. By doing that, yes, you get atonement. Like on the Day of Atonement a blood sacrifice was offered in the temple to placate a God angry about our transgressions, so Jesus, God’s only begotten Son was offered, in order to reconcile all of humanity once and for alll with God by not taking into account ‘sins’. In this worldview Jesus died ‘for’ our sins, as a random. But there is another interpretation that originated with Paul and which was later adopted by those adhering to the ‘gnostic’ (as in ‘gnosis’) view. We think of ‘sin’ as a moral transgression, an act that angers God, because it is against his commandment. But for Paul ‘sin’ was something more cosmic. ‘Sin’ was in the world and part of the world, and could be overcome. So then, what is ‘sin’? The Greek word for ‘sin’ is ‘hamartia’, to err, to be mistaken, to miss the mark. Erring, or to be mistaken, about what? About what is morally correct? I do not think so. In Catholic mystical theology (I am not a Catholic, but I follow so far), God became human (in Jesus), so that humanity could be raised to become God. In Jesus God became manifest as human. Where we err, and where (Roman) church doctrine went wrong, is that Jesus was considered to be ‘God’s Only Begotten Son’, completely divine (forgetting the human part), and humanity was considered totally human and fallen. This was not Paul’s teaching. Paul taught that Jesus was ‘the firstborn among many brothers and sisters’, and that we all carry within us the divine spark, the spirit of God, which is God’s, that makes all of us ‘sons’ and children of God. Paul really says ‘sons’, as Jesus was God’s ‘son’. You are all ‘sons of God, the Father’. Our ‘sin’, error, to be mistaken’, is to be mistaken about who we really are. Jesus died ‘because of’ our sins, because of our error, our ignorance, our blindness, because we never really understood what he was trying to teach us from his own inner experience of oneness with the Father. Jesus never said about himself that he was uniquely God’s son, and nobody else beside him. He said, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the light’. Follow me, and you will have the light, the truth, the understanding of who you really are, within you too.’ “That they be all one, Father, as (in the same way) I in you, and you in me, that they be one in us.” The same experience of inner oneness, of ‘I and the Father are one’ for all of us. I have my doubts if John really reports historical events. He wrote his Gospel, an allegory, in order to communicate a spiritual understanding. Most people do not remember when they were an egg cell and a sperm cell. How come there exists something rather than nothing? What is a human being? Who are we? How come that unconscious particles of matter somehow group together and become ‘alive’? We do not remember who we were before our human body was formed and we became ‘human’, which (the not remembering) is ‘the fall from paradise’. Through Christ, in Paul’s theology, we are ‘reconciled’ with God, in Greek, katallasso, ‘changed’ in the knowledge that we are children of God truly, and that life is eternal truly.

    • Bart
      Bart  May 30, 2016

      It is the “hyper” language that makes the strongest case. But also passages like Mark 10:45 or even John’s claims about the Shepherd in John 10.

  15. Avatar
    Omar6741  May 30, 2016

    Have you read any philosophers you found to be insightful? if so, which ones?

    • Bart
      Bart  May 30, 2016

      I have to admit, I much prefer ancient philosophers to modern ones, especially Plato, some of the Stoics (Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius) and Lucretius. But it’s mainly because I’m not philosophically trained and so don’t “speak the same language” as most moderns….

  16. Avatar
    drussell60  May 31, 2016

    Regarding the necessity of paying dues by doing the academic work, you absolutely nailed it Bart!. I did my academic work in American History, with a focus on American intellectual history at Michigan State University (my dissertation was on the intellectual agenda of the New Evangelicals, 1940s – 1970s, though I covered areas upon which George Marsden did not focus). I once gave a talk at a church in the Detroit area about fundamentalism and scholarship (it was based upon my dissertation), and during the Q & A time a fundamentalist pastor told me that my education had corrupted me with lies. He argued that fundamentalism was superior to anything higher education could produce, and that he, along with a plethora of fellow fundy pastors, were more qualified to talk about the subject than all us educated fools. He added that he could produce a dissertation better than mine in half the time without any professional training. This may be slightly off point from your point about laypeople thinking they can produce a scholarly book without doing the professional work necessary to give them credibility, but the entire theme reminds me of my encounter long ago.

    • Avatar
      FocusMyView  June 4, 2016

      Would you agree that the Bible protects itself from criticism by repeatedly redefining “wisdom” as that which agrees with the Bible? There are numerous verses denouncing “worldly wisdom” without defining it as particularly lewd or selfish or anything at all other than contradicting the wisdom supposedly from God himself.

  17. Avatar
    llamensdor  June 1, 2016

    I truly doubt that Jesus made any of the long-winded speeches in John’s gospel. Jesus may have been many thing, but he certainly wasn’t a Greek philosopher. I know you don’t think Jesus was literate, so you surely don’t believe he made these pompous speeches. He also has Jesus talking to the Jews as if he wasn’t one himself. John’s gospel is a gift to anti-Semites, but other than that, I can’t see its value.

    • Avatar
      Steefen  June 19, 2016

      Llamensdor: He also has Jesus talking to the Jews as if he wasn’t one himself.

      Stephenoabc: Jesus is a composite figure. Some of those figures were Jewish, some were not.
      #1 Queen Helena and her son Izates converted to Judaism. Jesus had a holy mother, Mary. Queen Helena took more than a 7 year vow for holiness.

      Queen Helena and King Izates fed 5,000 multiple times with their famine relief.

      #2 Jesus also is not a Jew because he requested people remember him via the drinking of his blood during Holy Communion. To do this is to have God’s face turn away. See Leviticus 17:10. For Jesus to defy this verse in the Torah, shows he is not a Jew.

      Pharisees seemed to be against slavery.
      Jesus was against the Pharisees.

      Paul’s violation of the Mosaic Code on slavery:

      While in prison, Paul met a runaway slave, Onesimus, the property of a Christian — presumably Philemon. He sent the slave back to his owner. This action is forbidden in Deuteronomy 23:15-16:

      “Thou shalt not deliver unto his master the servant which is escaped from his master unto thee.”

      “He shall dwell with thee, even among you, in that place which he shall choose in one of thy gates, where it liketh him best: thou shalt not oppress him.”

      Rather than give the slave sanctuary, Paul returned him to his owner.

      = = = =

      How did Christianity serve slaves?

  18. Avatar
    Pattycake1974  June 2, 2016

    To the 3rd question–When that topic was first brought up, I wholeheartedly agreed, but now I’m not so sure. It kind of reminds me of the literary elite in the 2nd and 3rd centuries versus the poor, uneducated people that started the field to begin with. It’s not exactly fair, because, here we are again some 2,000 years later still having the same issues of excluding the average person’s voice. It doesn’t feel right to tell someone they should have no say in it.

    No doubt there’s a lot of blood, sweat, and tears that go into a PhD. I’m very thankful for scholarly experts who are dedicated in bringing laypeople the truth as they understand it. Still, a fellow blog member brought up some good points to me; anyone who wants to write a book should do so because varying ideologies about a topic can be fascinating. As for myself, some of the members of this blog have written things that I found enlightening. Besides that, not everyone has the opportunity or the means to pursue a PhD.

    The field might be better served if laypeople could publish their books with some kind of critique or vetting added by experts and placed in a category of their own. People might enjoy reading what the average person has to say along with an expert’s opinion as to how the book is on-target, flawed, nowhere near the ballpark of being correct, etc… I’m sure there’s some PhD unknowns out there who’d be willing to do it. It might make them some money or get their names out there.

    • Avatar
      Pattycake1974  June 2, 2016

      Also, this seems is a bit backward here anyway. If someone like me wants to write a scholarly book, then I would think that the burden actually falls on the experts to guide and assist me with my endeavors.

    • Bart
      Bart  June 2, 2016

      I”m not saying that a non-scholar can’t write (or try to write) a scholarly book. I’m saying that s/he won’t get it published by a scholarly press, 999 times out of 1000. For good reason. I can try to play second base for the Yankees because I really really want to. But I’m simply not going to make the team.

      • Avatar
        Pattycake1974  June 3, 2016

        Okay, so maybe the term “scholarly book” isn’t the right term to use for a layperson. They can’t get a book published by Oxford UP. What I’m saying is that an average person can make a valuable contribution for a biblical topic, so there should be an avenue to produce their work outside of academia. Actually, I think there is already now that I’m thinking about it. There are publishing companies that produce religious books that aren’t by scholars. Would you be okay with directing someone toward that? Anyone can google it by searching for “religious book publishers”.

        I just found a website that gives a list of nearly every genre and a list of publishers.


        • Avatar
          Pattycake1974  June 4, 2016

          You didn’t answer. Hope I wasn’t offensive. 🙁

          • Bart
            Bart  June 5, 2016

            Sorry, I must not have seen the quesiton!

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    john76  June 5, 2016

    I think another important aspect of recent Jesus research is the emphasizing of Jesus’ humanity over him being a God. For instance, In Mark Jesus shows himself to be a fallible human prophet, not a God, when he is unable to do miracles in his home town: “Then Jesus told them, ‘A prophet is without honor only in his hometown, among his relatives, and in his own household.’ So He could not perform any miracles there, except to lay His hands on a few of the sick and heal them (Mark 6:5).” This “humanity of Jesus” is no where more evident than in Jesus’ atoning death in Mark, where Jesus is a human in agony and terror before God. Mark’s portrayal of the death of Jesus was one of reconciling humanity to God through atonement. Upon Jesus’ death, the tearing of the veil of the temple symbolized the removing of the barrier between people and God. The words of the Roman soldier that “Jesus was truly the son of God” symbolized the reconciling of the differences between Jews and Gentiles. The women being the witnesses to the empty tomb reflected the eroding of the inferior place of women and the unreliability of the testimony of women in the eyes of God. Hence, on this point, Paul also said “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus (Gal 3:28).” How Jesus got to his atoning death reveals his humanity. Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane shows him to be a person in agony and terror about his fate, terrified of his place in God’s plan, and petitioning God to change His plan! You would need to go through complicated mental gymnastics to explain the prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane from a Trinitarian point of view. In fact, it doesn’t make sense to see Jesus as any kind of God here, since it seems silly that a God would be terrified of his atoning death, because that is the only reason he would be on earth in the first place. Does it make sense that in a story about a God who came to earth to die to wipe out the sin debt of mankind, that this God would beg to abandon his post? After all, Jesus knows he has nothing to fear because he will just suffer for a few hours and eventually be resurrected: Jesus says “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise (Mark 9:31).” Jesus is not portrayed by Mark as a God, but just a terrified human. Probably what we see in Jesus’ prayer in The Garden of Gethsemane is the intrusion of doubts in Jesus’ mind about whether God will resurrect him or not (something that wouldn’t have happened if Jesus was a God, since as a God Jesus could have been in direct communication with God The Father). Or maybe Jesus had originally “discovered” that he was to be raised on the third day because he interpreted the story of Jonah in such a way that he believed it was to be fulfilled by him (by Jesus). We see this in the gospel of Matthew when Matthew writes “38Then some of the scribes and Pharisees said to Him, ‘Teacher, we want to see a sign from You.’ 39But He answered and said to them, ‘An evil and adulterous generation craves for a sign; and yet no sign will be given to it but the sign of Jonah the prophet; 40for just as JONAH WAS THREE DAYS AND THREE NIGHTS IN THE BELLY OF THE SEA MONSTER, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth (Matthew 12:38-40).” Maybe Jesus was losing faith in this hermeneutic (that maybe this prophesy wasn’t to be fulfilled by him), and so was afraid his atoning death wouldn’t end in resurrection. In any case, whatever Jesus thought God said in response to his desperate prayer in Gesthemane, Jesus comes out of it with renewed vigor and purpose: spouting blasphemy to the Jewish high council and telling Pilate he was the king of the Jews. So what had happened? Maybe Jesus thought God told him he would now be a traditional messiah, and that God would intervene in human history and help Jesus to defeat his enemies (The Romans and the Jewish Elite). When this doesn’t come to pass and Jesus goes to the cross, Jesus can’t understand it and Cries out for God to intervene in history and send a divine being to come and help him escape and bring him victory: Mark records that: “At the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, ‘ELOI, ELOI, LAMA SABACHTHANI?’ which is translated, ‘MY GOD, MY GOD, WHY HAVE YOU FORSAKEN ME?’ When some of the bystanders heard it, they began saying, ‘Behold, He is calling for Elijah.’ 36Someone ran and filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a reed, and gave Him a drink, saying, ‘Let us see whether Elijah will come to take Him down’ (Mark 15:34-36).” And so maybe Jesus’ fear and wanting to opt out of God’s plan was, in fact, all a part of God’s plan. Maybe Jesus as a “willing sacrifice” could not pay the sin debt for the world, but maybe Jesus as an “unwilling sacrifice” could. If it would have been meaningful to God if Jesus wanted to offer up himself willingly, imagine how much more it would have meant to God if Jesus was sacrificed unwillingly and in terror! Luke evidently had a problem with the portrayal of Jesus’ death and last words in Mark, so Luke changed Mark’s portrayal of Jesus’ last words from a terrified ” “MY GOD, MY GOD, WHY HAVE YOU FORSAKEN ME? (Mark 15:34-36),” to the resolute “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit (Luke 23:46).”

  20. Avatar
    Steefen  June 18, 2016

    “… what the authors of the New Testament thought. They thought, and explicitly said, on numerous occasions, that Christ died for sins, in order to bring atonement, reconciliation, redemption, salvation. For them, without Jesus’ death, sin would not be taken care of and people would be lost.”

    There were atonement offerings at the Temple. Once the Temple was destroyed, a void was filled–or an attempt at doing do occurred.

    Neither Paul nor John met an important prerequisite for claiming Jesus’ death was an atonement: both needed to first make a case against Yom Kippur.

    A Definition of the Jewish Holiday Yom Kippur:
    Yom Kippur is the holiest day of the year—the day on which we are closest to G‑d and to the quintessence of our own souls. It is the Day of Atonement.

    Those from AD 33-66 who claim Jesus’ death in AD 33 was some great atonement stopped going to the Temple for Yom Kippur? Jesus’ death filled no void until sacrifices ceased at the Temple.

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