Designed to improve your understanding of the New Testament as a whole and make your reading more rewarding, this commentary will be welcomed by a wide range of readers, from serious scholars to homeschooling parents. It gives a clear and concise explanation of what each book of the New Testament says, how the author got his information, who influenced him and what he thought about that influence, how his writing relates to other books in the Bible, what we should see in his account and why this matters. More than just an explanation of facts and ideas, however, Ehrman’s commentary goes into depth on questions often asked by readers such as “Why are there so many different endings of Mark’s Gospel?” or “Why did Paul think people should eat only one meal per day?” John’s gospel: Professor Bart Ehrman answers your questions about John’s Gospel
The New Testament is the most reliable guide to a Christian understanding of history and faith. But there have been countless misconceptions about what it says, and many people are deterred from reading the Bible because they think it’s too hard to understand. The truth is that even though it was written thousands of years ago, whenever possible in modern language accessible to all.
Can (or Should) We Change the Canon of Scripture? A Blast from the Past
Digging around in posts from five years ago now, I came across this one –as interesting to me now as it was then! Hope you think so too. It’s a response to a penetrating question. QUESTION: Given the criteria used to determine what would go on to constitute the New Testament canon, how is it that Hebrews and the book of Revelation remain part of the canon? I understand that Christians came to believe that they were authored by the apostles which is why they made it into the canon, but we now know that they weren’t authored by Paul or John..so why are they still in the NT? RESPONSE: Interesting idea! I sometimes get asked what I would exclude from the canon if given the choice, and I almost always say 1 Timothy (because of what it says about women in 2:11-15, and how the passage has been used for such horrible purposes over the years). But, well, it ain’t gonna happen. I don’t get a vote. And that’s the problem with Hebrews […]
June 8th, 2017|Catholic Epistles, Paul and His Letters, Public Forum, Reader’s Questions
How We Got Our 27-Book New Testament: The Case of Didymus
As I pointed out in my previous post, when I was a graduate student I wanted to show that I was not interested only in New Testament textual criticism (using the surviving witnesses to establish what the authors of the New Testament originally wrote) but in a range of important historical and interpretive issues in early Christianity. I wanted to be broad ranging. And I wanted this already at the very beginning of my graduate work. My first semester in the PhD program I had a seminar on the “Canon of the New Testament” with Bruce Metzger. This was a class that focused on the questions surrounding how we ended up with the twenty-seven books in the New Testament. Who decided that it would be these twenty-seven books, and no others? What was motivating these people? What were the grounds for their decisions? And when did they make them? These are all, of course, fundamental questions, and Metzger himself wrote the authoritative book on the topic – which is still the authoritative book. In the […]
April 25th, 2017|Fourth-Century Christianity, History of Christianity (100-300CE), Public Forum
Jesus’ Teaching in Aramaic and the Books of the Canon: Mailbag February 24, 2017
There are two interesting questions in this week’s Readers’ Mailbag: one about Jesus’ teaching in Aramaic and the other about which books did not make it into the New Testament. If you have a question yourself, ask it as a comment and I will add it to the burgeoning list! QUESTION: Even though Christ taught in Aramaic, was there absolutely nothing written down in Aramaic? Is there much of a language translation problem going from Aramaic to Greek? (Again, it’s mind boggling to consider how many opportunities for error to creep in by accident or design) RESPONSE: Yes, I’m afraid that’s right: we don’t have any writings from any early Christians in the language that Jesus spoke, Aramaic. That makes things rather complicated when it comes to deciding what Jesus really said – that is, if we want to have an idea of his exact words. Let me make two points about that. First, there are some passages in the Gospels where the author will preserve an Aramaic word or phrase on Jesus’ […]
February 24th, 2017|Canonical Gospels, Heresy and Orthodoxy, Historical Jesus, History of Christianity (100-300CE), Public Forum, Reader’s Questions
An Interesting Scribal Change at the Beginning of Mark
Since I’ve started saying something about how scribes altered the Gospel of Mark over the years as they copied it (yesterday I mentioned eight changes made by scribes in just the five verses, Mark 14:27-31) I would like to pursue this theme a bit, and talk about some of the more interesting changes. In this post I’ll pick just one that occurs right at the beginning of the Gospel. It’s an interesting change because scribes appear to have made it in order to eliminate a possible contradiction that was originally found in the Gospel – already in verse 2! The first verse of Mark’s Gospel is often understood to be a kind of title for the entire account: “The Beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.” To that opening statement, most manuscripts add the words “the Son of God.” I’ll talk about that textual variant in my next post, because it is complicated and interesting too – were those additional words originally found in v. 1 or not? And why would it matter? It turns […]
February 22nd, 2017|Canonical Gospels, New Testament Manuscripts, Public Forum
How We Got the New Testament (and not some other books!)
Many people (most people?) don’t realize that the collection of the books into the New Testament did not take a year or two. It was *centuries* before there was any widespread agreement about which books to include and which to exclude (why include the Gospel of John but not the Gospel of Thomas? Why include the Apocalypse of John but not the Apocalypse of Peter?). Yesterday I started to explain how it all happened. In this post I finish the task, by explaining the grounds on which the decisions were made and something of the historical process involved. I’ve always thought this topic was unusually interesting – it was my first passion in my graduate school days (and the first topic I ever wrote a scholarly article on). Again, this discussion is taken from my Introduction to the Bible, published a couple of years ago. *************************************************************** The Criteria Used The “orthodox” church fathers who decided on the shape and content of the canon applied several criteria to determine whether a book should be included or […]
January 6th, 2017|Fourth-Century Christianity, Heresy and Orthodoxy, History of Christianity (100-300CE), Public Forum
Constantine and Christianity
One of the readers of this blog pointed out to me in a comment a *third* thing that is commonly said about the emperor Constantine and the council of Nicea that is also wrong (the first two being the ones I mentioned: that at the council they [or even he, Constantine!] decided which books would be in the canon of the New Testament and that it was at the council that a vote was taken on whether or not Jesus was to be considered the Son of God. Wrong, wrong, wrong – both of them). It is widely believed (for some inscrutable reason) that Constantine made Christianity the “state religion” of the Roman empire. This too is wrong. So just a very brief bit of background, which will involve another (more or less unrelated) bit of misinformation that is commonly held having to do with the history of Christian persecution up to Constantine’s time. Many people appear to think that Christianity from the very beginning was an illegal religion that was constantly persecuted by the […]
October 11th, 2013|Constantine, Fourth-Century Christianity, History of Christianity (100-300CE), Reflections and Ruminations, Spread of Christianity
Should We Change the Canon of Scripture?
QUESTION: Given the criteria used to determine what would go on to constitute the New Testament canon, how is it that Hebrews and the book of Revelation remain part of the canon? I understand that Christians came to believe that they were authored by the apostles which is why they made it into the canon, but we now know that they weren’t authored by Paul or John..so why are they still in the NT? RESPONSE: Interesting idea! I sometimes get asked what I would exclude from the canon if given the choice, and I almost always say 1 Timothy (because of what it says about women in 2:11-15, and how the passage has been used for such horrible purposes over the years). But, well, it ain’t gonna happen. I don’t get a vote. And that’s the problem with Hebrews and Revelation – and all the other books that were admitted when Church Fathers (wrongly) thought they were written by apostles of Jesus (in this case Paul and John). No one is going to give any […]
June 10th, 2012|Catholic Epistles, History of Christianity (100-300CE), New Testament Manuscripts, Reader’s Questions
Question on How We Got the Canon of the New Testament
QUESTION: I just read Jesus, Interrupted … and have now seen that you have written quite a few books and articles. I am particularly interested in how the books of the New Testament were chosen and why/how the others were not. Can you recommend a good read for this? RESPONSE: Ah, this is one of the BIG questions of early Christian studies! I have been interested in it for over 35 years. My first PhD seminar in graduate school was devoted to just this question, and I started thinking about it years even before that! I do address the question in several of my books. As you know from having just read Jesus Interrupted, I devote a good chunk of chapter 6 to it; in particular it is the overarching subject of Lost Christianities: The Battles for Scripture and the Faiths We Never Knew (that book is my long version of the answer!). FOR THE REST of my response, log in! If you don’t belong, please join today! It only takes a small contribution […]
What Does The Bible Say
I was at a church a few years ago and heard the pastor say something to the effect of, “give me liberty or give me death.” Even though he did not use those precise words, he said confidently, “the Bible says.” Strangely, even though the words he used were not found in the Bible, they had the desired effect. In response to what was said, the bulk of the assembly enthusiastically said, “Amen!” I took a good hard look around and wondered, “What the heck is going on in here?” Why do so many people accept what must be an illegitimate interpretation of Scripture? Although I was shocked by what had occurred, I accepted the unfortunate reality that this particular church, at least those who had given their assent, were not just biblically inept but possibly biblically illiterate.
As harsh as it may sound, erroneous teaching is one of the greatest risks to a robust and healthy relationship with the Lord. Through perversion and outright denial of God’s Word, false teaching has made its way into the church. Satan’s first recorded remarks to Eve, delivered through the serpent:
The LORD God had created a snake that was more cunning than any other animal. ‘Did God truly say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden?’ he asked the lady. Creation: 1.
Satan sows the seeds of doubt and skepticism in Eve’s mind with this statement. What he said next, however, was what exposed her to the erroneous doctrine, which called into doubt and misinterpreted God’s objectives.
You will not definitely perish, the serpent assured the woman. The Bible warns, “If you eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, God knows that your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God.” Scripture verses citing this are Genesis 3:4-5.
This open rejection of God’s Word has persisted in many forms throughout history. However, how can this occur? In Jude’s letter, we are offered a clue:
For there are among you some for whom judgment was passed down in writing aeons ago. It is said, “They are ungodly people, who change the grace of our God into an occasion for immorality, and who put Jesus Christ to open shame” (Jude 1:4).
Due to the church’s lack of resources, evildoers were able to infiltrate it and spread their heretical teachings. To protect themselves from the dangers of false teaching, God’s children must implement a strategy that involves regular, in-depth study of God’s Word.
Acquiring a number of diplomas and certifications is not required, however it won’t hurt either. The only thing the Lord asks is that we give our full attention to reading, studying, and obeying His Word. Bible study is of great importance and should not be undervalued. Here’s the rule: Through Bible study, we should become so grounded in the truth that a lie would be completely exposed. If you don’t give it your all, it’s a symptom of spiritual indifference and it will hurt your spiritual progress.