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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 because …

You have to belong to the blog to read the rest of this post.  So why not join?  It won’t cost much — less than 50 cents a week! — and you’ll get so much information you won’t be able to stand it.  And every penny goes to charity.  So no one loses!

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The Son of Man, Pericopes, and the Complexities of Biblical Scholarship
Was My Weird Background a Help or a Hindrance: Mailbag October 22, 2017



  1. Avatar
    ask21771  October 23, 2017

    How important was the book of Enoch to the development of Christianity

    • Bart
      Bart  October 24, 2017

      It’s view, especially of the fallen angels, may well have influenced some early Christian views. It appears to have been important for the author of Jude (e.g., vv. 6; 14-15)

  2. Avatar
    BAdams517  October 23, 2017

    Mr. Ehrman,

    Followed you for a long time now which started after I stumbled upon one of your YouTube videos a year or so ago. First of all, thank you for everything you do with this blog. I am an ex-fundamental christian, turned primitive (hardshell) Baptist, turned atheist. My question for you is this. I don’t even know if you offer a distance learning class, but I was wondering if you thought I would be better served learning from you by taking one of your classes or by ordering and reading your books?

    • Bart
      Bart  October 24, 2017

      I don’t do any distance learning classes, but I have done 8 courses for the Teaching Company (a.k.a. The Great Courses); those might be very useful. But otherwise, yes definitely the books, maybe starting with Misquoting Jesus?

      • Avatar
        BAdams517  October 24, 2017

        Thank you Mr. Ehrman. I really appreciate your response and I will take you up on that advice. 🙂

      • Avatar
        Judith  October 24, 2017

        And which of your books is Sarah’s favorite, Dr. Ehrman? You told us once but I cannot find it.

        • Bart
          Bart  October 25, 2017

          Among my popular books, she likes Lost Christianities the best; among scholarly books, The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture.

          • Avatar
            Judith  October 25, 2017


      • epicurus
        epicurus  October 24, 2017

        Dr. Ehrman, regarding online courses, has anyone ever approached you about teaching a MOOC course? I’m currently taking one through Coursera that is from Yale with Dr. Bruce Gordon on church history. It’s free to take, or 50 dollars if you want a certificate saying you passed the quizzes at the end of each module.

  3. Avatar
    ardeare  October 23, 2017

    For centuries, people sat in the pews and listened to preachers while attempting to follow along in their KJV. Then, they would go home and practice family or individual bible study and try to arrange what they were reading, interpreting, or feeling into this box that was presented to them at church. People no longer need to do this. I believe the best way to read, learn, and decide what you believe about the bible is to read it as if you’ve never heard of it before……no expectations……no pressure……….no finite explanations.

  4. Avatar
    Tony  October 24, 2017

    Yes! That explains the reaction of secular NT scholars to the notion of a mythical Jesus. These folks came exclusively from Christian backgrounds and are to mythicist as fundamentalists are to “secular scholarship”. For NT scholars it is discombobulating and even nonsensical to approach historicity in any other way. On the other hand, for atheists there is no jarring discombobulation and no need to switch gears!

    Also, I really wanted to use discombobulating and this was my first opportunity. I’ll try to use it on family and friends the rest of the week.

    • Bart
      Bart  October 24, 2017

      Yup, it’s one of the great words in the language….

      • Avatar
        SidDhartha1953  October 26, 2017

        But I don’t get the reasoning about secular NT scholars. If the evidence pointed to a mythical Jesus, they ought have no more problem than with a mythical Abraham, Moses, David, or Solomon.

  5. Avatar
    Tobit  October 24, 2017

    Very interesting post! I have a very religious friend who is currently at Bible college and, just like you said, he simply doesn’t understand when I talk about the Bible in a historical way. For example, I mentioned that Daniel 7-12 were written in the 2nd century BC and he just wouldn’t believe it because Daniel is meant to have lived during the exile. Makes one wonder what some of these conservative Bible colleges are teaching.

  6. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  October 24, 2017

    Your splitting of the “devotional” from the “historical” has always been a very helpful idea to me. But doesn’t the “devotional” need to be based on and follow the “historical “? People can draw different conclusions, but don’t they need to start with the same data, the same “truth”?

    • Bart
      Bart  October 24, 2017

      For me it would need to be. For other people, not so much.

  7. Avatar
    rivercrowman  October 24, 2017

    Bart, glad you’re getting students with a clean slate (open minds).

  8. Avatar
    SidDhartha1953  October 26, 2017

    Paul mentions Pentecost in 1 Cor. 16:8. Of course that is an important Jewish feast. Is there any evidence in Paul’s letters that he knew a story about the coming of the holy spirit at Pentecost?

  9. Avatar
    aaron512  October 28, 2017

    Professor Ehrman, would you say that, regarding the academic study of the Old Testament (not the New Testament), William F. Albright can be considered reliable?

    Also, when would you date the Song of Deborah to?


    • Bart
      Bart  October 29, 2017

      His views are now considered to be dated. And I don’t have any independent opinion about the date of the Song of Deborah (since I’m not a Hebrew Bible specialist)

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