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Why Discrepancies Matter for Interpretation

In the last post I pointed out that Mark and Luke have very (very!) different portrayals of Jesus going to his death.  In this post I want to explain why that ultimately matters for understanding each of the Gospels: without understanding this difference, you will misunderstand *both* Gospels. *********************************************************************** I have argued that the two portrayals of Jesus going to his death in Mark and Luke are radically different, and that recognizing this radical difference is of utmost importance for understanding what each author is trying to say.   The in-shock, silent Jesus of Mark, who is betrayed, denied, abandoned, and mocked by everyone, who wonders at the very end why God himself has forsaken him, simply is not the same as the calm confident Jesus of Luke, who knows God is on his side, who understands what is happening to him, and who knows what will happen to him after it happens to him: he will wake up in paradise. A deeper understanding of each Gospel seeks to understand the portrayal of Jesus found in [...]

2020-04-03T01:33:34-04:00February 18th, 2018|Canonical Gospels|

Why Differences and Discrepancies Matter Theologically/Religiously

On Wednesday I will be having a public debate with Mike Licona at Kennesaw State University on the topic: "Are the Gospels Historically Reliable."  This is something I've thought long and hard about for my entire adult life, and so has he.  But we disagree, heartily.  It should be a lively and interesting debate. Just now I was looking through the ancient history of the blog, and I ran across this post where I discuss the issue from a different perspective (different from what I usually say) -- one in which I claim that it is *helpful* for Christians to realize that the Gospels have discrepancies.   Interesting thought, I think, and think I thought! - Mike Licona is the author of The Resurrection of Jesus, Why Are There Differences in the Gospels and Evidence for God. ***************************************************************************** In my two previous posts I’ve been trying to explain that the historical-critical view of the Gospels, in which they are recognized not always to represent historically accurate information about Jesus, is not necessarily a view that “trashes” them.  [...]

2021-02-13T01:07:23-05:00February 16th, 2018|Bart's Critics, Canonical Gospels|

Jesus’ Death and Resurrection in Mark: Another Blast from the Past

I have been talking about how no one in Mark's Gospel (as opposed to the other Gospels) knows who Jesus is -- not his family, his townsfolk, the Jewish leaders, not even his disciples.  But the reader knows.  Yet  even the reader is not given the full scoop until the end.  Here is how I explain the matter, in a post from years ago. ************************************************************ Jesus' Death as the Son of God It is clear from Mark's Gospel that Jesus' disciples never do come to understand who he is. As we have seen, he is betrayed to the Jewish authorities by one of them, Judas Iscariot. On the night of his arrest, he is denied three times by another, his closest disciple, Peter. All the others scatter, unwilling to stand up for him in the hour of his distress. Perhaps Mark wants his readers to understand that the disciples were shocked when their hopes concerning Jesus as messiah were thoroughly dashed: Jesus did not bring victory over the Romans or restore the kingdom to Israel. [...]

2020-04-03T01:46:56-04:00November 27th, 2017|Canonical Gospels, Public Forum|

Mark’s Suffering Son of God: A Blast From the Past

In my previous two posts I've pointed out that no one seems to understand who Jesus is in the Gospel of Mark.   In this post I want to show how Mark himself understands Jesus.  Here is how I discussed the matter several years ago on the blog. ******************************************************************** Jesus The Suffering Son of God Throughout the early portions of Mark's Gospel the reader is given several indications that Jesus will have to die (e.g., 2:20; 3:6). After Peter's confession, however, Jesus begins to be quite explicit about it. Even though he is the Christ, the Son of God -- or rather, because he is -- he must suffer death. Three times Jesus predicts his own impending passion in Jerusalem: he is to be rejected by the Jewish leaders, killed, and then raised from the dead. Strikingly, after each of these "Passion predictions" Mark has placed stories to show that the disciples never do understand what Jesus is talking about.   FOR THE REST OF THIS POST, log in as a member. If you don't belong [...]

2020-04-03T01:47:05-04:00November 24th, 2017|Canonical Gospels, Public Forum|

Jesus in Mark: Who Knew?

In my previous post I pointed out that Jesus' mother (and brothers) don't seem to know who he really is in Mark.  This is part of a broader theme distinctive to Mark's Gospel, a theme that is considerably downplayed in the other Gospels (and almost completely done away with in John).  Mark wants to emphasize, repeatedly, that no one seemed to understand who Jesus was throughout his entire ministry.  Here is what I say on the theme in my textbook on the New Testament, in the chapter on Mark. *************************************************************** Jesus The Misunderstood Son of God One way to establish "misunderstanding" as a Markan theme is to read carefully through the first half of the Gospel and ask, "Who realizes that Jesus is the Son of God?" The answer may come as a bit of a surprise. Clearly God knows that Jesus is his Son, because he himself declares it at the baptism (1:11). And since this declaration comes directly to Jesus ("You are my beloved Son"), the reader can assume that he knows it [...]

2020-04-03T01:47:25-04:00November 22nd, 2017|Canonical Gospels, Public Forum|

Jesus’ Mother and Brothers in Mark

A brief tangent on Mark’s account of Jesus’ rejection in his hometown (Mark 6:1-6), as summarized in my post.  As I indicated there, Jesus’ townspeople are incredulous that he can deliver such an impressive address in the synagogue.  They ask: “Where did he get such these things?  What what is this wisdom that has been given to him?  And how can such miracles be worked through his hands?  Is he not the carpenter, the son of Mary, and the brother of James, Joses, Juda and Simon?  And aren’t his sisters here with us?” In other words: the townsfolk knew of Jesus as an unimpressive member of the community, who worked a day job with his hands (say, a construction worker) – not great miracles (with his hands).  And his family was all there. The comments on the family are interesting and have prompted a lot of discussion over the years. To begin with, Jesus is here said to be “the son of Mary.”  As frequently noted, that’s a bit odd.  Normally ... To read the [...]

2020-04-03T01:48:08-04:00November 19th, 2017|Canonical Gospels, Historical Jesus, Public Forum|

Jesus Rejected by His Own Townspeople in Mark

I want to show in some depth why I think the parable of Lazarus and the rich man in Luke 16:19-31 does not originally go back to Jesus himself, but is a story that Luke either came up with himself or inherited from the oral tradition.   Recall:  the rich man feasts sumptuously; Lazarus is impoverished and desperate for the crumbs from the man’s table.  They both die.  Lazarus is carried by the angels to “Abraham’s bosom” where he is in blessed and satisfied; the rich man is sent off to Hades to be tormented in the flames.  When the rich man pleads with Abraham to have Lazarus come and provide him some temporary relief, Abraham indicates it is not possible.  When he asks for him to go and warn his five brothers to repent, he is told that there is no point: if the brothers don’t listen to Moses and the prophets, they won’t listen “even if a person is raised from the dead.” The parable is found only in Luke (so it is not [...]

2020-04-03T01:48:22-04:00November 17th, 2017|Canonical Gospels, Public Forum|

A Very Different Portrayal of Jesus’ Death

I am talking about how I came to understand and appreciate the Bible once I realized that there were widely different perspectives presented in one author or another – even when talking about the same thing.  The example I’m using is the Gospel portrayals of Jesus’ death.  In my previous post I laid out how Mark depicts it; here I will discuss how Luke does.  What I came to see (back when I was a graduate student, still a committed Christian but no longer a fundamentalist) was that it was both fruitless and impoverished to think the two Gospels were both trying to say the same thing.   Each of them is rich in meaning, but they meaning they ascribe to the event is very different.  Failing to appreciate the difference means failing to understand each author and the point that he is trying to make. Here is what I say about Jesus’ death in Luke, in contrast to Mark, in my book Jesus Interrupted. ******************************************************** Luke’s account is also very interesting, thoughtful, and moving.  But [...]

2020-04-03T02:13:54-04:00June 16th, 2017|Canonical Gospels, Public Forum|

How a Non-Historical Account Can Be Meaningful: The Death of Jesus in Mark

I am now at a point where I can explain how I read the Bible when I was a committed Christian who was not, however, a conservative evangelical convinced that the Bible was a completely inerrant revelation from God without any discrepancies or differences in it.  As I have already indicated, my new way of reading of the Bible did not denigrate the Bible at all, as often happens when people realize there are mistakes in it and come away saying something like:  “It’s worthless, just a pile of contradictions!”  That wasn’t my view at all. On the contrary, the differences revealed the true richness of the Christian tradition.  The Gospels, rather than simply being completely accurate accounts of what really happened were theological reflections on the significance of Jesus.  Different reflections, by different authors, all of whom had something to teach me as someone who was himself wrestling with the significance of Jesus.  One way to see the true depth of these different reflections is to compare them carefully with one another.  I explain [...]

2020-04-03T02:14:06-04:00June 15th, 2017|Canonical Gospels, Public Forum|

Is Mark’s Gospel Unsophisticated?

I’ll be be dealing with just one question in this week’s Readers’ Mailbag, since the response will require some explaining.  I has to do with the literary artistry of the Gospel of Mark – is it a fairly unsophisticated account of Jesus’ life and death? The question itself will require a bit of set-up and explanation.  In an earlier post I argued that Mark’s Gospel almost certainly ended in chapter sixteen at verse 8.   Jesus has been crucified, dead, and buried.  On the third day some women go to his tomb to anoint his body more appropriately for burial, but when they arrive the tomb is already opened, Jesus’ body is not in it, but a young man is, who asks them if they are looking for Jesus of Nazareth.  He then tells them that he has been raised and that they, the women, are to go tell the disciples that Jesus will meet them in Galilee.  The women, though, flee the tomb and don’t say anything to anyone because they were afraid. In my [...]

2020-04-03T02:30:13-04:00April 2nd, 2017|Canonical Gospels, Public Forum, Reader’s Questions|

Recent Manuscript Discoveries: A Blast from the Past

As we are nearing the five-year anniversary of the Blog, I have been looking back over some past postings, and this one caught my eye, from 3/30/13 (*four* years ago....).   It's still of interest.  Two things to say about it: "The Gospel of Jesus' Wife" is now recognized by everyone to be a modern forgery (it has been proved) (see, e.g., https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2016/07/the-unbelievable-tale-of-jesus-wife/485573/); and the fragment of Mark's Gospel allegedly from the first century has STILL not been published!   Here is my original post on the two: ************************************************************************ As I am taking a break from my Christological posts for a couple of days, I’ve received several inquiries about other things, including the newsworthy manuscript discoveries announced this past year: what has happened to them? Specifically, what about that Gospel of Jesus’ Wife that was named, announced, and published by Karen King back in September, and what about the first-century manuscript of the Gospel of Mark that Dan Wallace announced but would tell us nothing about in the debate that he had with me in Chapel [...]

2020-04-03T02:30:20-04:00March 31st, 2017|Christian Apocrypha, New Testament Manuscripts|

Major Scribal Corruptions in the New Revised Standard Version

In my previous posts I have indicated that the King James Version includes verses in some places that are almost certainly not “original” – that is, passages that were not written by the original authors but were added by later scribes.  I chose three of the most outstanding and famous examples: the explicit reference to the Trinity in 1 John 5:7-8; the story of the woman taken in adultery in John 7:53-8:11; and Jesus’ resurrection appearance in the longer ending of Mark’s Gospel, Mark 16:9-20. The thread actually began somewhere else, with my discussing not the King James Bible but the New Revised Standard Version, which is my preferred translation.  One might ask: how are these three passages presented in the NRSV?   Since virtually all scholars agree the passages were not original to the New Testament, are they printed there? As it turns out, the three passages are handled differently.   The first, the affirmation of the doctrine of the Trinity (1 John 5:7-8), is not in any of our most ancient manuscripts at all.  It [...]

The Ending of Mark in the King James Bible

I have been talking about passages of the New Testament that can be found in the King James Bible but were not in the “original” text of the New Testament.  I should stress, there are not thousands of these:  among the hundreds of thousands of differences among our manuscripts, most are not significantly expanded texts that hugely affect a passage/book.  But some areAmong those is the entire ending of the Gospel of Mark, as found in later manuscripts and the KJV.  Here is what I say about it in my book Misquoting Jesus.   The Last Twelve Verses of Mark The next example that I will consider may not be as familiar to the casual reader of the Bible, but it has been highly influential in the history of biblical interpretation and poses comparable problems for the scholar of the textual tradition of the New Testament.  This example comes from the Gospel of Mark, and concerns its ending. In Mark’s account of Jesus’ passion, we are told that he is crucified and then buried by [...]

2020-04-03T02:40:06-04:00February 4th, 2017|Canonical Gospels, New Testament Manuscripts, Public Forum|

Christ as Son of God in Mark’s Gospel

Son of God in Mark's Gospel. In my previous post I indicated that by the early fourth century, the debates over Christ’s divine nature had become extraordinarily sophisticated and complex (though not as sophisticated and complex as in the two centuries to follow!).  At the Council of Nicaea in 325 CE the question was over whether Christ, the God who created the world, was a subordinate divinity to God the Father, one who came into being at some point in time, or if, instead, he was just as eternal, just as powerful, and just as glorious as the Father, completely “one” with him, even in his essence.  It was this latter view that won the day. One of the things that I contend in my book How Jesus Became God, and in the debate, I had in New Orleans with Michael Bird (as many of you will know by now) was that these issues were not at *all* what the earliest Christians were debating and arguing about, either with one another or with non-believers. Michael [...]

2022-06-18T23:51:24-04:00February 21st, 2016|Bart's Debates, Canonical Gospels, Public Forum|

Readers’ Mailbag November 20, 2015

It is time for my weekly Readers’ Mailbag.  I will be dealing with two questions this time.  If you have questions, about anything at all related to the historical Jesus, the New Testament, the history of early Christianity, or anything else that I may have a remote chance of knowing something about, please ask!  You can either respond with a comment/question to this post, or send me an email, or comment on any other post!   QUESTION:   An off-topic request: what are the five most puzzling questions about the historical Jesus you would love to see resolved in your lifetime? RESPONSE:   Ah, this is a tough one.  It is made particularly difficult by two competing phenomena.  The first is that most scholars of the historical Jesus are pretty convinced that their views about what he said and did are on the money.   So in that sense, what is there that can be answered that hasn’t been?  The other is the unpleasant reality that in fact we know very few things for certain about Jesus – [...]

Jesus as the Son of God in Mark

I am set now to return to my thread on the changes in our surviving manuscripts of the New Testament that were made in order to make the text more amenable to the theological agenda of orthodox scribes and to help prevent their use by Christians who had alternative understandings of who Christ was. I have been arguing, in that vein, that the voice at Jesus’ baptism in Luke’s Gospel originally said “You are my son, today I have begotten you” (as in some manuscripts) but that it was changed because scribes were afraid that the text could be too easily read to mean that it was at this point that God had adopted Jesus to be his son.  These scribes believed that Christ had *always* been the son of God, and so God could not say that he “made” him the son on the day of his baptism.  Their change was remarkably successful: the vast majority of manuscripts have their altered text, in which the voice says (as it says also in Mark’s version): [...]

2020-04-03T13:10:36-04:00October 30th, 2015|Canonical Gospels, Public Forum|

Luke’s View of Jesus’ Death

In my previous post I tried to argue that the longer version of the account of Jesus’ Last Supper in Luke could have been created by a scribe who wanted to make the passage sound more like what is familiar from Matthew, Mark, and John, and to stress the point made in those other accounts as well, that Jesus’ broken body and shed blood are what bring redemption.   The passage as you recall reads like this: 17 And he took a cup and gave thanks, and he said: “Take this and divide it among yourselves; 18 for I say to you that from now on I will not drink from the fruit of the vine until the Kingdom of God comes.” 19 And taking bread he gave thanks and broke it and gave it to them saying, “This is my body that is given for you; do this in remembrance of me.”  20  Likewise after supper (he took) the cup, saying, “This cup is the new coverant in my blood that is shed for you.  [...]

2020-04-03T13:16:46-04:00October 1st, 2015|Canonical Gospels, New Testament Manuscripts|

Mark 1:1 as an Intentional Alteration of the Text

In yesterday’s post I began to explore a textual variant in Mark 1:1 that could be explained either as an accidental slip of the pen or an intentional alteration of the text.   We’re plowing into some heavy waters here – I know some members of the blog like me to go deeper into serious scholarship on occasion, and others would rather prefer that I not.  But here I am, in the thick of it. All of the posts in this thread are a lead up to answer the question from weeks ago now, about what led me to write The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture.   I’ve found that I can’t really get to that without providing some substantial background on what it is the field of textual criticism actually does. So where we are just now, by way of review:  there are thousands of textual witnesses to the NT (Greek manuscripts, manuscripts of the versions, writings of the church fathers who quote the text); these witnesses attests hundreds of thousands of variance among themselves; the vast [...]

2020-04-03T13:28:14-04:00August 4th, 2015|Canonical Gospels, New Testament Manuscripts|

A Variant in Mark 1:1 — Accidental or Intentional?

I have been talking about different kinds of changes made in our surviving New Testament manuscripts, some of them accidental slips of the pen (that’s probably the vast majority of our textual variants) and others of them intentional alterations.  One of the points that I’ve been trying to stress is that at the end of the day it is, technically speaking, impossible to know what a scribe’s “intentions” were (or if he had any, other than the intention of copying a text).  None of the scribes is around to be interviewed, and so – as with a lot of history – there is a good bit of scholarly guess-work that has to be done. This guess work is not simply shooting in the dark, however.   And it is dead easy for a highly trained expert to tell the difference between informed guesswork and just plain guesswork.   But at the end of the day we are always talking about historical probabilities, not historical certainties, when it comes to figuring out why a scribed decided to change [...]

An Intentional Change in Mark 15:34

I have started giving some instances of what appear to be “intentional” changes made by scribes, as opposed to simple, accidental, slips of the pen.  In my previous post I pointed to an example in Mark 1:2, in which scribes appear to have altered a text because it seems to embody an error.   If I’m wrong that this is the direction of the change – that is, if the text that I’m arguing is the “corruption” is in fact the original text – then there is still almost certainly an intentional change still involved, but made for some other reason.   But either way, the change does not appear to have been made simply by inattention to detail. Here I’ll give a second instance from Mark of what appears to be an intentional change.  I stress that these alterations “appear” to be intentional since, technically speaking, we can never know what a scribe intended to do.   I use the term I simply to mean an alteration to the text that a scribe appears to have made [...]

2020-04-03T13:28:51-04:00August 2nd, 2015|Canonical Gospels, New Testament Manuscripts|
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