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Teaching Christianity

Can My Undergraduate Students Continue Believing the Bible is Inerrant?

Since my conference in Chicago last weekend I've been thinking a lot about the theologically conservative folk who really believe there can be no mistakes in the Bible.  And just now browsing through some posts five years ago, I see someone raised a very interesting question about it, in relationship to my teaching at UNC.  Here's the question and my response.  I would still answer the same way today!   QUESTION: Do you ever get a student in your class who doggedly insists upon the inerrancy of the Bible? If so, and if they write their term papers in support of Biblical inerrancy, is it possible for them to get a passing grade in your class?   RESPONSE: HA!  That’s a great question! So, part of the deal of teaching in the Bible Belt is that lots of my students – most of them? – have very conservative views about the Bible as the Word of God.    A few years ago I used to start my class on the New Testament, with something like 300 [...]

Who Is The Enemy?

This will be a very personal post, about being an enemy of the Christian faith. I’ve long been amazed, surprised, and perplexed about how, when it comes to religion, comments made in one context are completely non-problematic but when the (exact) same comments are made in another context, they are heinous and threatening.   Some of it almost certainly has to do with tone and general attitude.  But I wonder if it isn’t actually much broader than that. One of the ways I’ve seen this over the years is in the use of humor.  When I was a conservative evangelical Christian at Moody Bible Institute there were all sorts of jokes we would tell about the faith or about our commitments or communities:  just about Moody, we would call it Moody Instant Bibletute; or say we went to Moody, where Bible is our middle name.  Or someone would say (with respect to the view that the “rapture” would occur prior to, not after, the millennium – something we were very big on indeed!) that he was [...]

2019-08-09T03:53:49-04:00August 9th, 2019|Reflections and Ruminations, Teaching Christianity|

The New Edition of My New Testament Textbook

People have been asking when the new edition of the next Bart Ehrman Textbook will be available. As I mentioned in my previous post, I have finished editing my textbook on the New Testament for its seventh edition (title still:  The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings).   The book was first published in 1997 and has always been designed for college/university students taking a one-semester course on the New Testament.  In it, I do not presuppose any knowledge of the topic but begin at ground zero. The Next Bart Ehrman Textbook When I started doing research on the first edition of this textbook back in the mid-90s, I had very clear ideas about what I wanted it to be.   First and foremost, I wanted to approach the New Testament from a rigorously historical perspective.   It is not that I had any difficulties at the time, either professionally or personally, with introductions that were more geared toward theology, exegesis, or literary criticism.  But I wanted my book to be different.  I wanted [...]

2022-06-27T22:26:49-04:00October 23rd, 2018|Book Discussions, Teaching Christianity|

The Digital Bible (by Jeff Siker)

I just finished the seventh edition of my textbook, The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings.   I started working on it, for the first edition, in 1993 – so I’ve been at it for 25 years.   Ouch.   For this new revision, among other things, I’ve added an Excursus of particular relevance, on the “Digital Bible,” written, luckily for all involved, not by me, but by my scholar-friend Jeff Siker, who has published, just this past year, the definitive book on it. Here is what he says about it.  (He is on the blog, so if anyone has any questions for him about it, or about anything else, ask away!) - Jeff Siker is also the author of Jesus, Sin, and Perfection in Early Christianity, Liquid Scripture: The Bible in the Digital World. **************************************************** The Digital Bible Jeffrey Siker The changing technology of writing and reading has always played a major role in the transmission and interpretation of the New Testament, from papyrus rolls to parchment codices to Gutenberg’s printing press, and, [...]

2021-02-07T00:37:40-05:00October 21st, 2018|History of Biblical Scholarship, Teaching Christianity|

Studying the Bible as Theology and/or History

  Here is an old question that I received that continues to be pressing -- something I think and talk about all the time! QUESTION: Would you please explain more on the differences between Biblical history and theology? Is it difficult as an historian to keep these separate in your personal beliefs? RESPONSE: I deal with this question in each of my three textbooks for undergraduates, since, for them, it is a confusing issue.  How can you study the Bible as a historian without religious perspectives guiding your reading.   Here is how I explain the issue in the Excursus to the first chapter of my Bible Intro. _________________________________________________________________________ EXCURSUS Most of the people who are deeply interested in the Bible in modern American culture are committed Jews or Christians who have been taught that this is a book of sacred texts, Scripture, unlike other books.  For many of these – especially many Christian believers – the Bible is the inspired word of God.  In communities of faith that hold such views, the Bible is usually [...]

What It Takes to be a Graduate Student

I often get questions from people who have been in a career for a while who want to know if it is feasible for them to go back to school and get a PhD in my field of New Testament/Early Christianity.  In most cases it is not feasible at all, simply because it is way too complicated and involved -- and takes way more time than one would think.  Here is what I said about what being a graduate student working toward a PhD involves, from my perspective as one who teaches these students. *********************************************************************************** I teach one undergraduate and one graduate course a semester. Teaching undergraduates is a passion of mine. I love doing it. These are nineteen year olds who are inquisitive, interested, and interesting. I enjoy lecturing to a crowd like that, figuring out what can make complicated material intriguing and compelling, keeping them attentive, helping them understand such important topics Some of my colleagues find teaching undergraduates a real chore; others find it very difficult. I find it to be a [...]

2020-04-03T01:26:09-04:00April 25th, 2018|Public Forum, Teaching Christianity|

Illuminating Exercises: The Position Paper Assignments for My NT Greek Class

Classes started last week, and for the first time in roughly forever I’m teaching a new course.  I posted the syllabus for my course on the Greek New Testament last week.  Here are the instructions I give the students for writing their weekly position papers. These are exercises you too might be interested in – they are easily done, but highly illuminating.  Or at least they are meant to be.  Some of them (such as the first) make best sense in the context off a class discussion, where I can point out things that some readers wouldn’t pick up on; others (such as the second and third) are pretty self-explanatory. The final two involve “collations” of manuscripts.  That involves taking a portion of a Greek manuscript (ancient hand-written copy) and comparing it word for word, letter for letter, with a modern printed Greek edition of the same passage, in order to note each and every difference, in order to see how alike they are.  That’s the first step to establishing the differences among our surviving [...]

2020-04-03T01:38:43-04:00January 20th, 2018|Teaching Christianity|

My Greek New Testament Course

For the first time in forever I am teaching a new course -- one I've never taught before -- at UNC, a class for classics students (and others who already know Greek) on the Greek New Testament.   It is obviously a very small class (6 or 7 students); to be in it students have to have already had at least a couple of years of Greek.   So the class is not teaching the rudiments of Greek grammar, but it assuming knowledge of that. We are reading/translating/analyzing lots of Greek in the class; learning about "textual criticism" (how to establish the oldest wording of the text given all variations among the manuscripts); and acquiring the skills to read and analyze actual manuscripts (the hand written copies of the New Testament, as opposed to the printed editions of the Greek). For anyone interested in the details and the play-by-play, here is the syllabus I handed out yesterday: ************************************************************************************* NEW TESTAMENT GREEK Religion 409 / Greek 409 Spring 2018 Instructor:  Dr. Bart D. Ehrman   Course Description This [...]

2020-05-15T09:57:26-04:00January 12th, 2018|Public Forum, Teaching Christianity|

The Academic Study of the New Testament

Students who are thinking about signing up for my undergraduate Introduction to the New Testament sometimes ask me whether they will have an insurmountable disadvantage if they haven’t ever read, let alone studied, the New Testament.   It’s a completely understandable question. Other students almost certainly take the course precisely because they think it will be easy-shmeasy for them: they grew up in church, and went to Sunday School their entire life, and so how hard can a course on the New Testament be?  They already know all about it! Obviously in some ways if a student already knows things about the New Testament they have an advantage.  But actually, as it turns out, there is a HUGE advantage to not knowing anything at all about the New Testament, and often my best students are precisely the ones who come in without any background in the field at all.  (As I’ll explain below.)  And so when students ask me if they’ll be at a disadvantage, I tell them not at all. But why is that? It’s [...]

My Graduate Level New Testament Course

Classes have started again and we are bursting into the term with vim and vigor!   For my graduate course this term I am teaching my "Problems and Methods in New Testament Studies" seminar (I offer this ever two or three years).  This is a kind of "Introduction" to the field of New Testament studies geared not for undergraduates but for graduates, all of whom have undergraduate degrees already and who (at least this semester) have already done some work in New Testament..   Well, the course is self-explanatory from the syllabus, which I attach here for your amusement.  It can give you an idea of how one might *start* on this kind of thing at the graduate level. *************************************************************************** Religion 707: Problems and Methods in the Study of the New Testament \ University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill Fall 2017   Instructor: Bart D. Ehrman This course will explore some of the classical problems addressed by the discipline of "New Testament Introduction."  Some of these problems are as old as the discipline, many are [...]

2018-01-13T21:33:33-05:00August 28th, 2017|Public Forum, Teaching Christianity|

Teaching Religion as an Agnostic

When I finally admitted to myself that I was an agnostic, I had already been teaching New Testament and the history of early Christianity for ten years or so, first at Rutgers in the mid 1980s and then at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill starting in 1988.   It comes as a surprise to some people when I tell them that my decision to leave the Christian faith made absolutely no difference at all, of any kind, in either what I taught or how I taught it.  I think people find that very strange indeed because they have a rather serious misconception about what it means to teach religious studies in a secular research university. Many people imagine that teaching religious studies is simply different from teaching anything else.  I think in part that is because they really haven’t given it much thought.  Religion, in this common view, is different from other fields of study and inquiry.  Political science, or history, or literature, or anthropology, or classics, or even philosophy – any of [...]

Spilling the Beans on my Beliefs on the Last Day of Class

About fifteen years ago or so I started doing something completely different on my last day of class in my New Testament course.  I have a lecture scheduled for then, of course, but the scheduled lecture rehashes material that is earlier covered in the class and that students can pick up easily from their reading – so it’s not one of the crucial class periods of the semester.  Sometimes that last class is not even that (depending on how the semester schedule works out) but is a kind of review session. But about two weeks before the end, I tell the students that I have an option for the last day, and I’ll let them vote on it. The option is to do the class as scheduled or, instead, to have a non-required class (no taking of attendance, no reason to come unless they want to) in which I explain what I myself really believe and why I believe it.   That is of some relevance to the class, of course, since the beliefs I’ll be [...]

Can Teaching Be Objective?

I have been discussing how I see the separation of church and state when it comes to teaching religious studies in a secular research university.  All of this has been a lead up to what I do on my final day of class in my course, Introduction to the New Testament.   On that last day, if students want, I tell them what I actually believe and why. I feel constantly torn between two different perspectives on teaching, which I call the Socratic and the Kierkegaardian models.   For Socrates (at least as reported by Plato) (which means that this may be Plato’s view, rather than Socrates’s) truth was truth, and the person who spoke the truth was irrelevant to the question of whether it was true or not.  What matters is whether one can establish through logic, reasoning, and evidence that claims are true or not.  The person delivering the claim has nothing to do with it.  Fools can speak the truth (sometimes) and savants can utter nonsense (often!). The 19th century Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard [...]

Teaching the Bible as a Historical Book

Ever since I first put foot in a university classroom as a professor of religious studies, I have been firmly committed to the constitutional separation of church and state.  I have never seen it to be my mission either to convert someone to a new religious point of view or to deconvert them from their old one.  My goals have been to teach about the history and literature of the New Testament from a non-confessional point of view and to make students think hard about whatever their views might be.  The goal is not religious but humanistic -- as is appropriate in a secular research university – namely, to help students learn how to think. There are few subjects that are more perfectly suited to the university's ultimate goal of training thinking human beings than religious studies, especially in the part of the world where I teach, the American South.   Nearly all of my students come into class with a life-long belief involving the material we cover in the syllabus.  Most of my students have [...]

2020-04-03T02:25:15-04:00April 28th, 2017|Public Forum, Teaching Christianity|

Teaching Religion in a Secular Environment

This little diversion of a thread was going to be a simply one-post on the talk I’ll be giving today to my undergraduate Introduction to the New Testament class, where I spill the beans about what I personally believe and why.  But it’s turned into a four-post mini-thread on my views of the separation of church and state. So far it’s been all background – how my twelve years of higher education were all done in Christian confessional contexts, not in secular schools, even though all of my teaching has been in research universities.  Go figure. As I indicated in my previous post, as a PhD student I tried to broaden my range significantly so it would not look like I could do nothing except for textual criticism, the study of the Greek manuscripts of the New Testament with the ultimate goal of figuring out what the biblical authors actually wrote.  My intention all along was to find a teaching position either in a divinity school/seminary (for the training of pastors) or in a Christian [...]

About Graduate Studies: A Blast from the Past

Two days ago someone asked me about doing graduate studies.  He had a master's degree and was wondering about whether to do a PhD.  I told him that if he could imagine doing something else with his life, he probably should do so.  Doing a PhD is just too painful.  It's long (in my field it typically takes about 6-8 years *after* doing a Masters; lots of students take longer), it's really hard, it's really painful, and there's no guarantee of a job when you 're finished.  If it's your passion, and you can't imagine doing anything else, you should do it (I told him).  But otherwise ... not so much. Looking back over old blog posts, I see that I talked about graduate studies almost exactly four years ago today.  Here is what I said then: ****************************************************************** I teach one undergraduate and one graduate course a semester. Teaching undergraduates is a passion of mine. I love doing it. These are nineteen year olds who are inquisitive, interested, and interesting. I enjoy lecturing to a [...]

What If the Mythicists Were Right: Mailbag November 6, 2016

QUESTION: It must be difficult going into these types of debates knowing that if Robert Price is actually right, your entire career would be pointless and irrelevant. I certainly don’t believe this, but it must have crossed your mind before?   RESPONSE: This question arose from the debate I had a couple of weeks ago with Robert Price, on whether Jesus existed.  Price argued, as you know, that there never was a historical man Jesus, but that the earliest “Christians” believed in a cosmic Christ, a mythical figure who lived above in the heavenly realm who was crucified by demons in outer space.  This is the Christ attested, for example, he claimed, in Paul.  But later Christians invented a historical figure Jesus out of this Christ, and the Gospels portray this fictitious figure that was simply made up.  Jesus of Nazareth never existed. And so this question is whether I really can’t entertain this view as an option since, if it were true, I wouldn’t have a career.  My career is based on the history [...]

Faith and History: A Blast From the Past

Here is a post that I made exactly four years ago today, on a topic of perennial interest: the relationship between theological belief and historical study: ******************************************************************* I received a number of responses to my post yesterday about faith and history – some on the blog itself and some via emails (I prefer questions/comments on the blog itself, by the way, as I can deal with them more efficiently. In case anyone should ask you which I prefer :) ).  Some of these comments were all heading in the same direction, and were made, I think, because (can you imagine it?) I was not as clear as I could be in what I was trying to say about the relationship of faith and history. In these responses my responders pointed out that it really is impossible to keep faith and history separate from one another, since in many instances the historical conclusions one draws may stand in conflict with theological beliefs. So something has to give, either the history or the theology. But that means that they [...]

Arguments, Evidence, and Changing Your Mind

In this series of posts on how I got interested in textual criticism, I’ve had a number of people indicate that they don’t see how the problems posed by our manuscripts did not absolutely destroy my evangelical faith.  By implication, I think, they are wondering why evangelicals broadly, to a person, don’t see these problems and realize that they don’t have a leg to stand on when it comes to their belief in the Bible. The logic these commenters are applying is one that I discuss in my book Misquoting Jesus.  If the evangelical belief is rooted in the sense that the Bible contains the very words that God inspired, and if a study of our manuscripts reveals that there are thousands – hundreds of thousands – of places where these words were changed, so that there are some places where we cannot know what the authors actually wrote, then isn’t that an insurmountable problem?  Why would God inspire the words of Scripture (that would take a mighty miracle!) if he did not make sure [...]

Learning to Teach at Moody

I will not be continuing this autobiographical thread (thread within a thread) for much longer (you may be glad to know), but I do want to get to the ultimate point (for the thread outside the thread), which is why by a couple of quirks/flukes I ended up better equipped to write books for general audiences than most of my colleagues in my PhD program.   The first has to do with what happened with me back in my days at Moody when I was learning tons about what was actually in the Bible (and the fundamentalist way of interpreting it all) (which, at the time, of course, I thought was the *only* correct way to interpret it). At Moody, every semester we were required to engage in some kind of formal ministry (“Practical Christian Experience”).  Everyone at Moody had to do one semester of “door-to-door evangelism,” where we were taken to one neighborhood or another somewhere in a suburb of Chicago, and literally knocked on doors to talk to people to try to convert them.  [...]

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