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The New Edition of My New Testament Textbook

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.

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, or exegesis, or literary criticism.   But I wanted my book to be different.   I wanted to situate the writings of the New Testament more thoroughly than was typically done in the historical, cultural, social, political, literary, and ideological worlds from which it emerged; I wanted it to plow beneath the surface to find clues not only about such traditional issues as authorship, sources, and dates, but also about what was then still a vibrant field of study, social history; I wanted it to ask historical questions of the texts and of the events that they either narrated or presupposed.   I was interested in the history of the text and the formation of the canon of the New Testament.  In the historical Jesus.  In the historical Paul.  In the history of the Johannine community.  In the historical realities lying behind Matthew, and 2 Corinthians, and Revelation.

Relatedly,  I wanted the book to be highly comparative:  how does John compare with the Synoptics?  How do they compare with each other?  How does the preaching of Jesus compare with the accounts of the Gospels?  Or the theology of Paul?  How does Paul’s theology stack up against the letter of James?  Or the book of Hebrews?  How does the book of Revelation compare with everything else?   And on and on.  In my view these questions are central to the historical study of the New Testament, and are inherently interesting.

I also wanted the book to be critical, engaged in rigorous scholarship so that students reading it could see what the critical questions were and what evidence was typically adduced in order to answer them.   I absolutely did not want to emulate some of my predecessors in trying to introduce students to the prominent scholars of the past who took one position or another, and pretend that this is the same thing as introducing them to actual evidence.   In my experience, 19-20 year olds are simply not all that interested, and do not need to be, in the different positions taken on the nature of Justification in Paul by Bultmann, Käsemann, J. Louis Martyn, E. P. Sanders, N. T. wright, and Douglass Campbell.   They’ve never heard the names of these scholars (fine ones, all of them), and, so far as I’m concerned, in an introductory class, they have no need to hear of them.   Far more interesting than a list of names of modern scholars is a grappling with the texts themselves, to try to make sense of Romans or Galatians.

Finally, I thought this kind of approach could be achieved at a level that a 19-or 20-year old might appreciate.  The really difficult task was satisfying that audience and the other audience of a textbook: the university professors who decide whether to use it.  My goal was to make the book interesting, even intriguing, for beginners and yet fully competent in its scholarship.   As far as making it interesting, I realized that the choice of content was fundamental:  the study of the New Testament is absolutely fascinating if you know where to look, but dreadfully dull if you look elsewhere.  At least as important was the style of writing and the layout of the page.

So now it’s in the seventh edition.  I have made a number of changes here and there, including adding a number of “boxes” throughout.   The boxes in the book are like inserted discussions (such as you might find in a news magazine like Time or Newsweek) on a related topic that is particularly interesting but not *directly* germane to the narrative of the chapter itself.  The two most common boxes that I have are titled “Another Glimpse Into the Past,” where I give some additional factual information about the topic and “Something to Think About,” where I discuss a controversial topic that can generate different opinions.

For this new edition there are a dozen new boxes scattered throughout (I’ve eliminated others – especially the ones I thought were the … least interesting!).   I’ve thought it might be a useful exercise to post these new ones on the blog.  They are like short snippets on interesting topics, each of which could be discussed in 30 pages or more, but which I devote usually 300-400 words on only.

Since these are shorter than my normal 1000-word blog posts, my idea is to have *two* postings a day (so you can get your money’s worth on the blog!).  (I had thought about combining them to give two in each post, but since they are all on topics vastly different from each other, I decided that might be confusing).  And so these will be my upcoming mini-posts, two a day for a week or so, starting tomorrow, unless something more pressing comes up that I need to post about instead!




My Pod Cast Interview with Sam Harris
The Digital Bible (by Jeff Siker)



  1. Avatar
    Brand3000  February 2, 2019

    Dr. Ehrman,

    Does the language of 1 Cor. 15:3-8 strongly indicate that they saw Jesus with their eyesight a.k.a. eyewitnesses?

    • Bart
      Bart  February 3, 2019

      Yes, I think so. The verb is “to see” used in the aorist passive.

      • Avatar
        Brand3000  February 3, 2019

        Dr. Ehrman:

        “aorist passive.” please help me understand this, so this indicates that Jesus was seen by them (pointing to a genuine eyewitnessing of an event), and NOT that they actively sought him out/conjured him up, is that right?

        • Bart
          Bart  February 4, 2019

          Literally the word means “he was seen” by them (aorist is like our past tense; passive means the subject is acted upon rather than doing the action). But this particular verb, in the passive, can take on the meaning “appeared” (active rather than passive). So it’s usually translated “he appeared to them.”

          • Avatar
            Brand3000  February 4, 2019

            Dr. Ehrman,

            The passive seems important in indicating that Jesus did the action. So, if the writer meant to say they just conjured Jesus up, would it have been put in an active instead of a passive?

          • Bart
            Bart  February 5, 2019


  2. Avatar
    Brand3000  February 7, 2019

    Dr. Ehrman,

    Do you agree?

    “The Christology of 1 Thessalonians could have been written by Peter or James or indeed anyone in the early church. It merely echoes the primitive kerygma, of which traces abound in the Pauline letters.” – Keys to Galatians: Collected Essays by Jerome Murphy-O’Connor

  3. Avatar
    Brand3000  February 8, 2019

    Did you ever think of doing a Commentary Series?

    • Bart
      Bart  February 10, 2019

      Ha! Never ever. Maybe I’ll add that to the list of questions to answer later in a full post.

  4. Avatar
    Brand3000  February 9, 2019

    Dr. Ehrman,

    Do you think the resurrected Jesus appeared to them in an illustrious manner that was more impressive than the faded, nebulous ghost image that we usually think of? Because I’m wondering how “fine matter” could have been awe-inspiring, do you think maybe there was a glow or something that exuded palpable grandeur?

    • Bart
      Bart  February 10, 2019

      I don’t think anyone who actually has a vision thinks of what s/he sees as a nebulous ghost image; that’s how people who *haven’t* had visions imagine them.

  5. Avatar
    Brand3000  February 10, 2019

    Dr. Ehrman,

    I wanted to see if I have this right. That the followers first and foremost based their belief in Jesus’ resurrection on the visions, and I also think you said that even in the text the empty tomb doesn’t convince anyone anyway. So do you think that apologists have over-stated the import of the empty tomb as being something vital? Did you ever think, since becoming a scholar, that the visions plus an empty tomb was a good argument, or is it better (for the apologist) to put more emphasis on the group appearances, and not “make hay” over the empty tomb?

    • Bart
      Bart  February 11, 2019

      Yes, that’s pretty much my point. The empty tomb is overplayed by apologists, as even the New Testament shows.

  6. Avatar
    Brand3000  February 14, 2019

    Dr. Ehrman,

    Do you agree with this quote specifically on the topic of hallucination by expectation?:

    “The evidence that we have from the New Testament does not support any picture of Jesus’ followers excitedly expecting to meet him risen from the dead. Instead of persuading themselves into thinking that they saw him, they had to be persuaded that he was gloriously alive again. Among other things, Jesus’ arrest and disgraceful death left them crushed. Only by ignoring the evidence can we picture them anxiously awaiting his return from the dead and out of their imaginations hallucinating his appearances.”

  7. Avatar
    Brand3000  February 14, 2019

    Dr. Ehrman:

    Who are/have been some of your favorite scholars past/present?

    • Bart
      Bart  February 15, 2019

      In what area? NT generally? In teh past generation there were amazing scholars, very different from each other: Raymond Brown, Lou Martyn, Bruce Metzger, Chris Beker, Paul Meyer, E. P. Sanders, Wayne Meeks, and on and on and on.

  8. Avatar
    Brand3000  February 22, 2019

    Dr. Ehrman:

    Do you think there are different layers to the 1 Cor. 15:3-7 tradition, or is it impossible to tell?

  9. Avatar
    rburos  February 25, 2019

    I have the 6th edition, and I am not sure if your discussion of adoptionists, Marcionites, Gnostis, and Proto-Orthodoxists should also include Judaizers (Galatians, e.g.)? I’m not recommending; I’m actually asking. You also don’t mention this in your book Lost Christianities, so I’m wondering really *why* to not include them. Is it because they were only in the first generation? Obviously they lost out quickly.

    • Bart
      Bart  February 26, 2019

      Because I was talking about second century heretical groups, not opponents of Paul a century earlier.

  10. NulliusInVerba
    NulliusInVerba  March 3, 2019

    When re-editing your textbook, how in the world do you keep track of what you want to change, remove and add? And how to you guard against redundancy or omissions?

    • Bart
      Bart  March 4, 2019

      I simply take a printed copy of the earlier edition and mark it up in pen, as a permanent record. Is that what you’re asking?

      • NulliusInVerba
        NulliusInVerba  March 4, 2019

        I was asking more about your mental process but I can see how your simple (ink) solution is an enormous help. You must have Herculean recall.

        • Bart
          Bart  March 5, 2019

          My advisor Bruce Metzger loved the Chinese proverb: The weakest ink is stronger than the strongest memory.

  11. Avatar
    Brand3000  March 27, 2019

    Dr. Ehrman,

    On pgs. 5-7 of “Forged” you write about how Christianity is unique because it is/was concerned with objective Truth unlike other religions. Do you think that’s part of the reason why Paul presented the orderly list of eyewitnesses to the resurrected Jesus?

    • Bart
      Bart  March 29, 2019

      Really? Do I talk about Paul and others being in objective truth?? How weird. I don’t think the rest of the world was subjectivist and Paul was objectivist at all! (Our notion of objectivism has come down to us form the Enlightenment)

      • Avatar
        Brand3000  March 29, 2019

        …Last paragraph on pg. 5 of “Forged”

        • Bart
          Bart  March 31, 2019

          Nope. I don’t say anything about objectivity.

          • Avatar
            Brand3000  March 31, 2019

            Then please help me understand what you meant here: “One could argue that the obsession with truth in parts of evangelical Christianity today was matched by the commitment to truth in the earliest years of Christianity. This is one of the features of Christianity that made it distinctive among the religions of antiquity.” You also go on to talk about how to the Christians there was an actual “right” and “wrong” (p. 7) “Forged: Writing in the Name of God – Why the Bible’s Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are” by Bart D. Ehrman, HarperOne, 2011 page 5

          • Bart
            Bart  April 1, 2019

            The idea of “objective” truth, as opposed to some other kind of truth — e.g., “subjective” — is a post-Enlightenment distinction. It completely means what you mean by “objective.” “I love my wife” or “I can’t stand beets” or “God is love” are not the same kind of “truths” as “the square root of 9 is 3.” If you want to pursue the idea further, a good introductoin is Terry Eagleton, Literary Theory: An Introduction.

  12. Avatar
    Brand3000  March 28, 2019

    Dr. Ehrman,

    I was reading a book by the Jesus Seminar which included a section on interpolations, but they didn’t say anything about 1 Thess. 2:13-16, which is sometimes considered to be one. Do you think it is an interpolation?

  13. Avatar
    BroTruth101  June 17, 2019

    Dr Ehrman
    Is the New edition of The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings the sixth or seventh edition?

    • Bart
      Bart  June 17, 2019

      The 7th edition is coming out in September.

      • Avatar
        Hngerhman  June 20, 2019

        7th Ed. in Sept – Praise be! I’ve not had this much trouble awaiting the arrival of something since I was a kid at Xmas.

        What does it say about me that I feel this way about a textbook?…

  14. Avatar
    DrBooker  October 25, 2019

    I’m enjoying edition #5!
    Chapter 15 so far!!
    I would love to take one of your tests that you give your students. Is this possible?
    I also valued your Mormon Stories interview with Dr John Dehlin!

    • Bart
      Bart  October 27, 2019

      Maybe I should post the test on the blog! (Think I did once, but it was long ago)

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