This post also appears this morning at Conciliar Post.
“When students are first introduced to the historical, as opposed to a devotional, study of the Bible, one of the first things they are forced to grapple with is that the biblical text, whether Old Testament or New Testament, is chock full of discrepancies, many of them irreconcilable…. In some cases seemingly trivial points of difference can actually have an enormous significance for the interpretation of a book or the reconstruction of the history of ancient Israel or the life of the historical Jesus.”—Bart D. Ehrman1
As this statement from contemporary (and popular) New Testament scholar Bart D. Ehrman indicates, there those who study Christianity—its scriptures and history—who argue that the canonical gospels2 do not present a historically accurate account of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. Around Easter every year, scholars and journalists of this perspective often pen pieces on the ”Why the Resurrection Story is a Myth” or ”Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?” In more nuanced versions of these discussions, the credibility of early Christian accounts of Christ’s passion and resurrection is called into question, even on facts as seemingly mundane as the day on which Jesus was crucified.3 Such is the position of Ehrman, who argues that the Synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) and Gospel of John portray Jesus as being killed on two different days, thus revealing their historical inaccuracy and untruthfulness.4 In this post, I will examine this claim and explain why the canonical gospels indicate that Jesus died on the same day, what has been historically called Good Friday. Continue reading
I am often asked some variation of “Where did we get the New Testament?” or “Why are these specific books included in the New Testament?” In conjunction with yesterday’s post on the Origins of the New Testament, today’s post seeks to address why the New Testament includes the writings which it contains.
Most of us take for granted the twenty-seven books that make up the New Testament, but this was not always the case. It was not uncommon in the ancient world for there to be different books included in Christian collections of writings. Such works as the Letters of Clement, Epistle of Barnabas, and Shepherd of Hermas are included in such noteworthy and important manuscripts as Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Alexandrinus. For many years the Eastern and Western Churches debated both the inclusion of Hebrews and Revelation. As recently as the 16th century and the Protestant Reformation, there were serious doubts about the works to be included in the New Testament. Of these, Martin Luther’s objections to Hebrews, James, Jude, and the Apocalypse of John (Revelation) were so severe that he placed them in an addendum to his German New Testament. Some contemporary Christian Churches in the ancient parts of the world (mostly the Middle East) still have New Testament canons that differ from the standard twenty-seven book canon of the “Orthodox” (Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Protestant). Obviously several factors had to influence why certain writings were included in the New Testament. But what were they? Continue reading
Most Christians, and I would dare say most Americans, know some basic things about the Christian New Testament. But many people don’t know (or don’t want to know) how the New Testament came into being. Some people seem to think that Gospels, Acts, Epistles, and Revelation fell from the sky in a nicely leather bound English translation (whichever your church happens to use, of course). Hopefully, most of you know that wasn’t quite how it happened.
So how did the New Testament canon form? Continue reading
In addition to writing here, I also serve as Managing Editor at Conciliar Post, a website dedicated to faithful and serious thinking about important topics. One of the many things I enjoy about Conciliar Post are the monthly Round Table discussions, where several writers offer answers to a question about a contemporary cultural or theological issue. January’s Round Table was about the role of women in the Christian Church. After reading my contribution (below), I would encourage you to visit this discussion on Conciliar Post.
Q: What is the appropriate place and role of women in the Christian Church?
In answer to this question (or rather, as the beginning of an answer which extends beyond the brief remarks offered here), I want to take a historical and textual approach to the earliest Christian communities as referenced in Romans 16. When discussing the role of women in the Church, many Christians seem to take a perspective of “There isn’t biblical evidence for female pastors; therefore there shouldn’t be female pastors”, effectively ending their discussions of the subject there. Evidence for this view, in my opinion, seems tenuous at times, as I hope to demonstrate below. Continue reading
The Second Treatise of the Great Seth is one of the “G/gnostic” texts found at the Nag Hammadi Library in Egypt. Generally dated in the third century by scholars, the name and origin of this text remain a mystery, though it has been speculated that the name Seth originated from the son of Adam and Eve from Genesis 4. In this treatise, the gnostic Christ is speaking to the “perfect and incorruptible” ones and describing a true understanding of his life story, crucifixion, relationship to the Father, and his teaching. This document contains both elements of both a pro-Gnostic message and an anti-Christian message, as Christians are said to proclaim the teachings of a dead man while persecuting the true gnostic church. While gnosticism is an oft discussed phenomena of late antiquity and the early Christian age, there remains a certain amount of ambiguity and uncertainty as to what gnosticism actually was, perhaps mostly because the Christian apologists and writers of the gnostic age did not discuss the actual theology of their opponents aside from what was wrong with it. In this text, Christ seems to be advocating a form of mind-body dualism that seems to be fairly pervasive among certain branches of gnosticism in the early Christian era. It is important to note that most scholars have failed to place this specific gnostic text within any specific genre of gnostic literature, further evidence of the uncertainty of its origin and writing. Continue reading
For nearly two thousand years, the Gospel has stood at the center of the Christian faith. This is especially true for a certain segment of American Evangelical Christianity, which remains committed not only to the proclamation of the Good News of Jesus Christ, but also to the careful definition of the meaning and implications of the term “gospel.” It is this conversation that Matthew Bryan engages in Forgotten Gospel: The Original Message of a Conquering King (Selmer, TN: Greatest Stories Ever Told, 2014). Continue reading
If that’s not an adage about publishing books, it should be. It’s no secret that the controversial statements (or perspectives which can be made to sound controversial) catch the headlines. Look no further than The DaVinci Code or Reza Aslan’s Jesus. Unfortunately, much of culture is predicated on the idea that the bigger the “splash” you make, the most important you are (*insert censored joke about Kim Kardashian here*).
The same is true in scholarship, especially if you can write a book suggesting something even remotely scandalous about Jesus.
This type of stir is what Simcha Jacobovici and Barrie Wilson’s new book The Lost Gospel: Decoding the Ancient Text that Reveals Jesus’ Marriage to Mary Magdalene (New York: Pegasus, 2014) is all about. Fortunately, there are still sane scholars who can debunk such claims in the course of a few articles. One such authority is Richard Bauckham, longtime professor (now retired) at the University of St. Andrews.
If you’re interested in learning why Jacobovic and Wilson are wrong and learn how to deal with the latest “Jesus and Mary Hype”, I would strongly encourage you check out Bauckham’s Seven Article Refutation of The Lost Gospel, helpfully posted over at Mark Goodacre’s NT Blog. Engage these articles, they are well worth your time.
This post is part of our ongoing series on Luther’s Two Kingdoms.
The common critique that Luther separates the kingdom of Christ and the kingdom of the world in such a manner that does not allow for meaningful Christian interaction within the world often stems from an understanding of Luther’s two kingdoms doctrine as highly dichotomous and Augustinian. Concerning this connection, while Luther’s original concept was based upon Augustine’s dualistic notion of the division of world between God and Satan, he moved beyond his muse, as “he found the idea of the sovereignty of God in secular law as well as in the affairs of state, he was able to show the Christians how he could assume a meaningful responsibility in the human community without contradicting the categorical commands of Jesus.” Althaus argues that the distinction between Luther’s terms of ‘government’ and ‘kingdom’ lessened as dualism decreased and he wanted to say that marriage and property had positive paradisiacal benefits within the secular kingdom. Continue reading
Few people alive today are more popular and polarizing than Pope Francis. No one seems sure quite how to respond to the Bishop of Rome, nor are they sure whose side (if any) he is taking in ongoing theological and cultural debates. Sensational media claims about Francis “revolutionizing” the Catholic faith are overblown, to be sure, but Catholics of a staunch traditionalist bent also right in noting that the current successor to Peter is no mirror image of his papal predecessors. It was thus with great anticipation that I read Francis’ The Joy of the Gospel, if for no other reason than to engage the Pope on his own terms. Continue reading
If you read the four canonical gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) you’ll notice a few things. First, Matthew, Mark, and Luke contain a lot (a LOT) of the same (or at least similar) stories and parables. In fact, if you sat down and compared similar how similar the Synoptics are, you would find that approximately 76% of Mark is mirrored in 41% of Luke and 45% of Matthew. In other words, a significant part of Mark’s gospel materials (the stories, parables, sayings, narratives, etc) seems to have found it’s way into Luke and Matthew’s gospels. This material is called “Triple Tradition” (or sometimes Synoptic tradition– it’s found in all three synoptic gospels). Examples of Triple Tradition include Jesus’ Temptation in the Wilderness (Matthew 4:1-11; Mark 1:12-13; Luke 4:1-13), the Parable of the Sower (Mathew 13:1-9; Mark 4:1-9; Luke 8:4-8), and the Calming of the Storm (Matthew 8:23-27; Mark 4:35-41; Luke 8:22-25). Continue reading