When historians look at their sources, they are very interested in how close they can get to the events. It is not always as simple as the oldest sources being the most accurate, but it is a factor.
Carsten Peter Thiede, in Rekindling the Word, argues for some early dates for certain Gospel fragments. Much of the book deals with the Magdalen papyrus of Matthew’s Gospel. This fragment has been dated to a variety of centuries, but Thiede argues for a first century date. This would be remarkable if true. Unfortunately, Thiede’s position is definitely a minority and it is likely that it is later.
Thiede also agrees with the claim that a portion of Mark’s Gospel was found among the Dead Sea Scrolls. This would also give us a valuable first century Gospel fragment. In this case, the controversy is not the date but the identity. Most scholars reject that the fragment in question is from Mark.
I wasn’t really convinced by Thiede’s claims. However, the book was quite interesting in terms of Gospel origins, the role of Peter and how manuscripts were created. Anyone interested in Christian origins will appreciate Rekindling the Word, even if they don’t agree with Thiede’s conclusions.
The Christian church has had an unfortunately bad relationship with the Jewish synagogue at various times in their history. But is Christianity antisemitic at it’s core? The earliest Christianity can be found in the documents of the New Testament.
There have been many accusations of antisemitism regarding the New Testament. Are these claims true?
The first thing we need to remember is that all of the earliest Christians, including their leader Jesus of Nazareth, were Jews. Christianity was initially based in Jerusalem led by James, also a Jew.
Yes we see some conflict between followers of Jesus and other Jews, such as the work of Saul of Tarsus, the later Apostle Paul. But this wasn’t about one religion vs another religion. Christianity was still a sect of Judaism. This was about conflict among different interpretations within Judaism.
In the final book of the New Testament, Revelation, we begin to see the parting of the ways in the letters to the seven churches. There is a reason for this. Not only had more Gentiles entered the church, there were other things going on.
Judaism had certain rights as a legal religion within the Roman Empire. At first the Christians, as Jews following Jesus, benefited from this. Then certain things happened. There was the Jewish War of 67-70 AD. This was also a time when the Christians were getting on the bad side of the Romans. It was in the Jewish best interest to distinguish themselves from the Christians.
As we get into the second century, there is a growing anti-Jewish sentiment among some Christians. This can be seen in the Epistle of Barnabas (not actually written by Barnabas).
Sadly, antisemitic feelings continued to grow within the church. Some terrible things have been done to the Jews in the name of Jesus. But whatever happened later in history was not reflective of the earliest Christians.
Much of the world rightfully celebrates the life and remembers the death of Martin Luther King, Jr. But what many people often forget is that King is not just a part of social history but is also church history.
King was a Baptist pastor and theologian and his faith informed much of what he did. Martin Luther King, Jr. had his faults but his impact is still felt in a positive way.
Here is a BBC interview with Martin Luther King, Jr. from 1961.
One of the first books that I read was Kenneth Scott Latourette’s A History of Christianity Vol. 1. It helped to spark my interest in church history. I recently reread both volumes of this respected history.
The first thing that readers need to know is that it is dated. Latourette only wrote it until about 1950. Another writer added a chapter until 1975.
Still, this two volume set is a very good overview of church history from the first to the twentieth century. Even though each volume is quite long, the author is only able to give fairly short summaries of major events. This is still a good introduction to help readers to know what areas interest them.
One of the strengths of this history is that it includes some very diverse aspects of history. He covers Roman Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant history. I found this history covered more Roman Catholic events than most.
More than that, it includes a wide geographic range as well. Instead of focusing on just western Europe or the United States, he looks to many other areas of the world. This gives the reader a much broader understanding of the church.
The olde date of this book is a drawback but I still recommend Latourette’s A History of Christianity.
One of my favourite writers on early Christianity is N.T. Wright. I have read many of his books and when I was asked what I wanted for my birthday, I knew it was Paul: A Biography.
Wright has written many books on Paul but this one is unique. In some ways it is a bridge between his academic and popular level work. It is not a theology of Paul or a commentary on his letters, although it contains elements of both. As the title suggests, it is a biography of Paul.
Some New Testament scholars may not like his blending of information from Paul’s letters and Luke’s Acts. The trend is to take Paul’s seven “authentic” letters seriously, discounting the other letters and Acts.
However, Wright is writing a biography and any biographer would take into account all of the available information and that is what he does with Paul. If we were dealing with any other ancient figure (other than Jesus), no one would question this approach.
Those interested in Paul will love this book. Wright gives an overview of Paul’s life based on Acts and then inserts information from the letters and the context of those letters where appropriate. This is an essential resource for anyone interested in early Christianity.
The best thing about this book is that is not just for New Testament scholars. It is written in a readable style that the layperson will enjoy and understand. Yes, Wright pulls in from his considerable scholarship but it is not overwhelming.
This post is not on whether or not Jesus was conceived by Mary while she was still a virgin. I deal with more theological questions at my other website. Belief in the virgin birth is a faith statement and this post is going to deal with history.
To be clear, the New Testament teaches the virginal conception rather than a virgin birth. There is a subtle difference. The doctrine only teaches that Mary was a virgin when Jesus was conceived. However, “virgin birth” will be used as the popular form.
It is also important note that only Matthew and Luke describe the virgin birth. Not only did Mark and John not mention it, neither did Paul. That doesn’t mean that other early Christians didn’t believe it.
What I want to deal with is the claim by people, commonly called Jesus Mythicists, that the virgin birth of Jesus was based on pagan myths, specifically Horus, Dionysus, Mithras, among others.
My response here is not based on a desire to defend the Bible (although I am a Christian) but by looking to the myths of these gods/heroes.
The problem with the claims that the virgin birth was based on pagan myths is that most of the examples given by mythicists are not virgin births. What is claimed as a “virgin birth” are really conceptions with a supernatural element. Often the mother was not a virgin even before the conception and the baby was conceived through intercourse.
So why do they describe it as a virgin birth? I suppose because many of them include intercourse between a god and a mortal, thus not including a human male. But that is not a virgin birth. Nor is that the type of conception described by Matthew and Luke.
My problem with the pagan origins of the virgin birth are not theological but historical. Mythicists, apart from misrepresenting the New Testament, also misrepresent the ancient myths.
The King James Version (Authorized Version) of the Bible was one of the most influential books in western culture. Many Christians today continue to hold tightly to the King James Version. The problem with such influence is that legendary elements begin to adhere to the truth. Ryan Reeves looks at three myths about the King James Version. You might want to also check out his book, Know How We Got Our Bible (KNOW Series).