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Bart responds to readers, friend and foe, as time allows.

February Gold Q&A: Ask your Questions!

Dear Gold Members, It is time for our monthly Gold Q&A.  Have a question?  Ask it!  Anything related to the blog! To enter your question on to the list: send it to Diane at [email protected] DEADLINE for your question. Midnight EST this Friday, Feb. 25.  I will make the recording that weekend, and it will be available, if all goes to plan, on Monday, Feb. 28. I'm looking forward to it!   Bart  

2022-02-22T18:23:12-05:00February 22nd, 2022|Public Forum, Reader’s Questions|

Why I Prefer the NRSV

In my various posts recently I've talked about problems I have with the NRSV; some people have asked why, then, it is my preferred translation.  And even more commonly (a few times a month) I get asked if there are ANY translations out there that try to give the original form of the text instead of the one(s) altered by scribes. I've dealt with both questions in the past, and here will, in short order, explain my overall strong preference for the NRSV, all things considered.  This is a post from aeons ago. ****************************** A number of people have responded to some of my recent comments by asking what my preferred Bible translation is. I get asked the question a lot – especially since my book Misquoting Jesus, where I talk about the changes scribes made in the manuscripts they copied over the years.  A number of readers were alarmed and wondered whether I should let scholars know about these problems.  In every case I responded that yes, indeed, scholars – all scholars of the [...]

Knowing What Jesus Said and Did

I was just now looking through some old posts on the blog -- there over 2000 of them, since 2012 -- and ran across one that struck me as particularly relevant, to me at least.  It's the topic I'll be discussing with my PhD students on Tuesday, and it turns out this is what I first said about it in a post I made nine years ago.  I'll say pretty much the same thing on Tuesday! It's in response to a question from a reader, about how scholars try to determine what Jesus said and did.  ****************************** QUESTION: I've seen, somewhere on the internet (I know, great source!) some discussion that modern scholarship is moving away from the idea of criteria (such as multiple attestation, dissimilarity, etc.) and that the use of criteria is becoming seen as outmoded. Is there any truth to this, or were these sources just blowing smoke? RESPONSE: This question is about the criteria that scholars use to establish historically reliable material about the historical Jesus.  For background: there are several [...]

2021-10-18T17:37:48-04:00October 19th, 2021|Historical Jesus, Reader’s Questions|

Why and When Did We Get This Canon of the New Testament?

One of the questions I get most often is about the canon of the New Testament.  I got the question yesterday, after a lecture (on some other topic).  The question is actually a series of related questions:  We have twenty-seven books in it.  Who decided?  On what grounds?  And when? I've dealt with these matters on the blog before.  Maybe it's time to do it again! The first thing to emphasize is that the most common answer one hears to these questions is completely wrong.  My sense is that people have this answer because they read it someplace, or heard it from someone who had read it someplace, and that someplace was one place in particular: Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code!   (If you don’t know, I wrote a book explaining the historical mistakes in Brown's book,  Truth and Fiction in the Da Vinci Code.  It was a particularly fun book  to write. Some of the mistakes were real howlers…)  Contrary to what Brown says (and claims is a historical fact, and NOT part of [...]

2021-09-20T14:20:31-04:00September 25th, 2021|History of Christianity (100-300CE), Reader’s Questions|

Was Peter the First Pope?

Several people have recently asked (in reference to that pop quiz I gave to my class this semester) whether it is in fact right that Peter was the first pope.   I dealt with the question a few years ago, along with another interesting tradition about Peter.  Here's the question I got and my response.   QUESTION: Is there any historical evidence that the apostle Peter was the first Bishop of Rome and that he was martyred upside down on a cross?   RESPONSE: Ah, I get asked this one (or these two) on occasion.  I dealt with them both in my book Peter, Paul, and Mary Magdalene (which, by the way, was a blast to write).   First I’ll deal with Peter in Rome – which will take a couple of posts; then the question of his martyrdom.  Here is what I say about the first in my book ****************************** In some circles, Peter is best known as the first bishop of Rome, the first pope.  In the period I’m interested in for this book, however, [...]

Why Did Paul Think *Faith* Would Bring Salvation?

I received this question recently and decided to post on it again.  It seems like it should be a softball.  It turns out, it's not.  It's a hard curve.  Here's the question and my response.   QUESTION: Why did Paul establish the idea of salvation via faith? Why did he think that salvation by Jesus’ crucifixion was conditional on faith? Especially when Jesus’ ministry often promoted good works and when Jesus himself surely would have believed in salvation via good works (being Jewish)? I feel like this is a core tenet I struggle to get my head around since it seems almost contradictory to circumvent good works and then have so many good people--or at least as good as those who have faith--go to hell, or, more accurately, annihilation.   RESPONSE: The easiest way to see how Paul came to think/believe/understand his evangelistic message that "salvation" with God can come only by "faith" in Christ's death is by realizing how he started reasoning backwards from his belief that Jesus was raised from the dead.  Paul [...]

2021-08-04T10:42:55-04:00August 18th, 2021|Paul and His Letters, Reader’s Questions|

How I Take Notes When Doing Research for a Book

  A couple of weeks ago when I first talking about my work on the next book dealing with Revelation, I was asked how I actually go about doing the research -- in particular, how I take notes on what I read.  It's a big deal for any author: how does one keep track of the research?  I discussed the issues a few years ago right after I had finished drafting my book Heaven and Hell, and thought it might be worth reposting now.  Here 'tis: ****************************** Now that I have finished writing the draft of my book on the afterlife – which I’m tentatively titling “Heaven, Hell, and the Invention of the Afterlife (that will be the title until my publisher changes it!!) – I have received several questions from blog members about aspects of the writing itself.  One reader wanted to know how I keep track of all the things that I read in preparation for writing a book like this (or like anything else).  Here is how: When I decide what the [...]

Some Intriguing Questions about Jesus’ Predictions and Mental Health

I've gotten a lot of terrific questions over the years on the blog, and looking through old posts, I came upon this one dealing with two of them, both on Jesus and his immediate followers.  I thought they were worth addressing again. Both of these, as it turns out, deal with issues related to psychology and the early Christian movement: one has to do with why the followers of Jesus didn’t simply give up and disband when the end-of-the-world-apocalypse they had been anticipating didn’t happen (so that they were proven to be *wrong*) and the other about whether Jesus was, literally, crazy.   Interesting questions!  If you have one you would like me to address, just ask in a comment on any of my posts.   QUESTION 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?   RESPONSE Ah, this is a meaty question [...]

Gold Q&A for June!

Dear Gold Members, It is that time again!   As you know, one of the perks of your elevated status as a gold member of the blog is that you are provided an audio Q&A once a month for gold members only.   You provide written questions, I answer as many as I can, and I release the audio recording to gold members only.  Have a question to ask?  The sky's the limit.  Go for it. I will be recording the next Q&A on Saturday Jun 19, to be released  Tuesday June 22.  Send your question(s) to our blog COO, Diane Pittman, at [email protected].   The deadline is midnight (in whatever time zone you're in) Friday June 18 . The best questions are only a sentence of two long at most.  I hope to hear from you! Bart

2021-06-12T13:13:45-04:00June 12th, 2021|Reader’s Questions|

What Kind of Ancient Christian Books Might Be Discovered?

On and off of the past few months I've posted on which books from early Christianity -- from the time of the New Testament! -- I'd love to get my grubby paws on.  Here is a related question I received.  What are the chances? QUESTION: What do you think are the odds that a really startling discovery like Q or an early Paul letter is still out there and likely to be discovered? RESPONSE: This is a really great question, and like many really great questions, there is no really great answer.  It is, of course, impossible to come up with any actual “odds.”   The best we can say is “pretty slim indeed." But let me put some flesh on the bare bones of that answer. The first thing to say is that there are indeed instances in which a modern discovery has been made of a book that we had reason to suspect at one time existed.   But that very rarely happens. In virtually every case that it *has* happened, it is not a document [...]

You Don’t Want To Blaspheme the Spirit! But What’s It Mean?

Since I've been posting now on the role of the Holy Spirit in the New Testament, I've been getting a number of questions about what it means to "blaspheme the Holy Spirit."  In some cases the question is urgent, from someone who fears she or he has committed the sin.  That would be a problem.  Jesus says that THAT sin is the only one that is unforgivable.  Forever.  Serious stuff. My view is that anyone who is concerned they've committed it almost by definition has not committed it.  But that will take a bit of explaining.   I looked it up and I have posted on this a couple of times over the years, including just a year ago -- but since it keeps reappearing as a question, I thought I should go over the topic again. So here's the deal.  The earliest reference to the idea of the “unforgiveable sin” comes to us in the Gospel of Matthew (it is taken from the so-called Q source):  “Therefore I tell you every sin and blasphemy will [...]

2021-06-07T17:51:08-04:00June 3rd, 2021|Early Christian Doctrine, Reader’s Questions|

YHWH and Jehovah: Same? Different? Where’s Jehovah Come From?

I received a number of comments on my recent posts about whether Jesus was Yahweh (Hebrew: YHWH) in traditional Christian thinking/theology.  And a number of people have wanted further explanation of the name.  In particular: how does it relate to "Jehovah"?  In fact, where does the name "Jehovah" come from?   And is it in the New Testament? I was asked this question directly years ago on the blog, and posted on it.    Here is the question and what I said in response.   QUESTION: How firmly grounded in reality is the claim of Jehovah’s Witnesses that the ‘divine name’ (Jehovah) belongs in the New Testament?   RESPONSE So this is an interesting question, with several possible ramifications.  At first I should explain that the divine name “Jehovah” doesn’t belong in *either* Testament, old or new, in the opinion of most critical scholars, outside the ranks of the Jehovah’s Witnesses.  That’s because Jehovah was not the divine name. So here’s the deal.  In the Hebrew Bible (the Christian Old Testament) God is given a number [...]

Got a Question for Me? Gold Q & A for April!

Dear Gold Members, As you know, gold-level members will receive a special 45-50 minute audio post every month, in which I respond to questions gold-level members have asked me. Have a question?  It can be on anything connected to the Bible, early Christianity, or anything else related even remotely to the blog.  Ask away!  We can take questions until this Monday, April 26 midnight (Eastern Time). To send in a question, simply zap an email to my assistant Diane Pittman [email protected].   She will collect the questions; I will record the session; and we will have it posted an audio file by Thursday April 29.   It will be available only to you, those with Gold privileges! I’m looking forward to talking about anything you want me to talk about.  And I hope you are enjoying the blog experience otherwise.  If there is anything we can do to make it better, please let me know.   Bart        

2021-04-25T12:39:46-04:00April 23rd, 2021|Reader’s Questions|

Could Jesus Read?

Here’s a question I have gotten repeatedly over the years: Could Jesus read?  I received a form of the question in a comment recently: QUESTION: My question is: Could Jesus read? I thought I had read in your books or heard in one of your videos that you thought he, along with his immediate followers, were illiterate. But recently in one of your Sunday lectures you either stated or implied that he could actually read, and at least some of the instances in the gospels where he was reading from “the scrolls” were likely true.  Please straighten me out on this topic. RESPONSE: I’ll begin with something that I've talked about on the blog several times before literacy in Roman Palestine. The reality is that the vast majority of people then and there could not read or write. This comes as a surprise to many people who have heard the modern myth that all boys in Palestine went to Hebrew school and became literate there. Turns out, that’s not true. This is a rather important [...]

2022-06-07T16:54:42-04:00April 20th, 2021|Historical Jesus, Reader’s Questions|

The Importance of What Is Lost: Paul’s Letters

In a previous post I began to answer the question of which lost books of early Christianity I would most like to have discovered, and I started my answer with the earliest writings of which we are familiar, the letters of Paul, most of which (presumably) have been lost.  I would love for us to find some of them.  I doubt if we ever will, but who knows?  Maybe someone will announce that one is to be published later this year! Seriously, we would all love to have more letters from Paul, and not merely for sentimental reasons (Oh, wouldn’t that be *nice*?).  Paul is without a doubt the most important figure in the Christian tradition next to Jesus himself.  His writings have served as a basis for Christian ethical and theological thought for centuries.  And yet we know so little about what he thought and taught. When people read Paul’s letters, they frequently neglect to realize that these are all “occasional” writings.  By that I do not mean that Paul occasionally wrote letters, but [...]

2021-03-24T17:41:48-04:00April 7th, 2021|Paul and His Letters, Reader’s Questions|

Gold Members: Audio Q&A! This week!

Dear Gold Members, As you know!  Gold-level members will receive a special 45-50 minute audio post every month, in which I respond to questions gold-level members have asked me. Have a question?  It can be on anything connected to the Bible, early Christianity, or anything else related even remotely to the blog.  Ask away!  We can take questions until this Saturday March 27, noon, EST. To send in a question, simply zap an email to my assistant Diane Pittman [email protected].   She will collect the questions and I will record the session Saturday afternoon;  it will be posted as an audio file by Tuesday  – and only to you, those with Gold privileges! I’m looking forward to talking about anything you want me to talk about.  And I hope you are enjoying the blog experience otherwise.  If there is anything we can do to make it better, please let me know.   Bart        

2021-03-23T12:16:28-04:00March 23rd, 2021|Reader’s Questions|

Lost Christian Writings I’d Love to Get My Hands On!

I thought it might be fun to intersperse some posts from years ago to break up here and there the thread on the Trinity, for those who have, well, lots of other interests too!  So here's a good option. I did a short thread before the vast majority of you were on the blog (and maybe before you were born. :-) ) based on a question:  among all the ancient Christian writings that have been lost, which ones would I especially love to get my grubby paws on? Here's the original question and my first response to it.   QUESTION:  What lost early Christian books would you most like to have discovered?   RESPONSE: Ah, this is a tough one.   There are lots of Christian writing that I would love to have discovered – all of the ones that have been lost, for example! But suppose I had to name some in particular.  Well, this will take several posts.  To begin with, I wish we had the other letters of Paul.   Let me explain. In [...]

How Old Was Jesus ???

I received a very interesting question from a blog reader, and it has led to an unexpected answer.   QUESTION Is there any significance to the age of Jesus and its relation to the start of his ministry?   RESPONSE: I don’t know what the questioner actually means about the “significance” of Jesus’ age, and so I’ve decided to answer a related question.  What, in fact, was his age?  Well, the matter is … like so much else in our universe … unexpectedly complicated. It turns out I dealt with this years ago on the blog.   I know because I just checked.  I had forgotten about that post, and even more interesting, I had forgotten my answer, which contains some information that I ALSO FORGOT.  In fact, some really interesting information.  I bet you didn’t know (as I apparently used to know) that there is a discussion of Jesus’ age in the writings of one of the most important early church fathers, which  indicates that Jesus grew to be a relatively old man before he [...]

2022-07-06T00:08:49-04:00February 17th, 2021|Canonical Gospels, Historical Jesus, Reader’s Questions|

Do We Have Paul’s Original Letter to the Philippians?

A few days ago I answered a question about whether someone in the very earliest church who was reading one of the Christian writings to his congregation in the church -- say, one of the Gospels or one of Paul's letters -- might have *changed* it in places orally so that the people who were listening to him (most of whom wouldn't be able to read themselves) might have heard something other than what was written.  Great question. In this and the following posts I want to deal with an equally vexed question.  Stick with that same situation.  That writing the person is reading (unless he is living in the same town as the author and this is just a little while later) is presumably a copy of  the original writing, or, more likely, even if it's just a few years after the original, a copy of a copy.   What are the chances that that copy was different in places from the original, and if it was, do we now, today, actually have the original. [...]

What Really Happened at Jesus’ Trial Before Pilate?

An important question I’ve received from another scholar who is interested in New Testament studies but is an expert in a different field.   QUESTION: Have you ever encountered the argument that the Gospels’ portrayal of Pilate giving in to the crowd’s call for Jesus’ death could be possible in as much as Pilate would have wanted to avoid a riot and so acquiesced for that reason?  I am wondering whether this is an old apologist argument of some sort?   RESPONSE: It is a great question and it has an easy answer.  Yes I have indeed.  This is a standard argument made by people, including scholars, who think that the Gospel accounts are entirely reasonable and probably accurate.  It’s the view I myself had for years.  The idea behind it is pretty simple, and works in easily delineated stages: Jesus was exceedingly controversial among the crowds in Jerusalem. His trial was a major public event. The Jewish leaders were intent on having him executed, and they stirred up the crowd by having them shout [...]

2020-11-13T08:36:07-05:00November 23rd, 2020|Canonical Gospels, Historical Jesus, Reader’s Questions|
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