All posts by Stephen Bedard

5 Reasons Why I Love History

FiveI have loved history for as long as I can remember. When my friends were reading superhero comic books, I was reading comic books about World War Two (Sgt Rock was my favourite).

My interest in military history has continued but has also expanded. There are many areas of history that I enjoy, both ancient and modern.

Even as a I did graduate work in biblical studies, I often came at the subject from a historical perspective.

I don’t know if you appreciate history like I do, but I thought I would share five reasons why I love history.

  1. We can learn from the mistakes of the past. People throughout history have made many unfortunate choices. This includes the church (the subject of this podcast). I do not intend to cover up the mistakes, but I hope we can learn from them.
  2. We can learn from the successes of the past. On occasion, people have made good choices that have helped people and changed lives for the better. We need to hear their stories.
  3. We can be inspired by the individuals and events of the past. Much of history is not just a list of events but includes story. Ancient historians expected that their writings would have some sort of positive effect on their readers.
  4. Studying history connects us to a larger story. Who we are is much more than just our personal life or even the experiences of our parents. We are connected to people and events across the globe and throughout the generations. One of my relatives pushed back our family tree to the late 1400s and even that is only a small part of the picture.
  5. History is interesting. There are some pretty strange characters throughout history. I’m always shocked when people say history is boring. If you think history is boring, you are not looking close enough. They say that truth is stranger than fiction and history demonstrates this to be true. I study history not to impress people but because it is fun.

What about you? Why do you love history?




Did the Apostle Paul Create Christianity?

Apostle PaulA lot of people, Christian or not, have great respect for Jesus. He may be seen as a great ethical and religious teacher. He may even be considered a prophet of some kind.

Some of those who have respect for Jesus, have much less respect for Christianity. They like Jesus but dislike some of the theological assertions of organized Christianity.

Where did the church go wrong? For some the answer is clear: Paul.

I have read criticisms by Muslims who have suggested that Christianity veered off from the teachings of Jesus because of Paul’s innovations. I have read similar things by some Jewish writers who wish to reclaim Jesus for Judaism.

It is a valid historical questions to ask whether Christianity as it is now finds its origin in Jesus or Paul.

One of the challenges in answering this question is the dating of our sources. It is likely that Paul’s letters predate our written Gospels. How can we tell if Paul changed anything if his writings are the earliest that we have?

I would say that the burden of proof is on those who insist that Paul changed the teachings of Jesus and introduced new ideas. Having said that, I believe that the weight of the evidence is on Paul being consistent, if not with Jesus, than at least with the earliest Christian teachings.

For example, some of the distinctives of Christianity include the resurrection of Jesus and divinity of Jesus. These are found throughout Paul. But did Paul come up with these ideas?

Paul seems to cite in 1 Corinthians 15 an earlier creed about Jesus’ resurrection. There is evidence that the clearest statements about the divinity of Jesus in Colossians and Philippians are earlier creeds that Paul adopts.

Paul also addresses the question of whether he had a different gospel in what is likely his earliest letter:

But from those who were influential (whatever they were makes no difference to me; God shows no favoritism between people)—those influential leaders added nothing to my message. On the contrary, when they saw that I was entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised just as Peter was entrusted with the gospel to the circumcised (for he who empowered Peter for his apostleship to the circumcised also empowered me for my apostleship to the Gentiles) and when James, Cephas, and John, who had a reputation as pillars, recognized the grace that had been given to me, they gave to Barnabas and me the right hand of fellowship, agreeing that we would go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. They requested only that we remember the poor, the very thing I also was eager to do. (Galatians 2:6-10)

Of course, this could be Paul trying to cover up his involvement in changing Christianity. But we would need positive evidence for that before dismissing what he says in Galatians.

What about the conflict that Paul seemed to have with some Jewish Christians?

It is true that Paul did have some issues with some Christians from a Jewish background. But that conflict was not about what we would consider the key doctrines of Christianity. The question was about the process by which Gentiles would become followers of Jesus. Were the Gentiles required to convert to Judaism first or were they able to directly follow Jesus? It is interesting that Luke reports that it was not through Paul, but rather Peter that the Gentiles first were able to directly follow Jesus (Acts 10).

Was Paul influential in developing Christian doctrine? Absolutely. Much of what Jesus taught was aimed specifically at a Jewish audience. There were many topics that Jesus gave no clear teaching on how things worked in the kingdom of God. Paul took what Jesus taught and applied to a Gentile context.

However, I would suggest that evidence is lacking that Paul created his own form of Christianity distinct from the teachings of Jesus.




Can Christians Do Critical Church History?

Church HistoryAs I work on this podcast about Christian history, one could challenge me on how appropriate it is for me to do this. Not only am I a Christian, but I’m a pastor as well. Doesn’t that bias disqualify me?

I have seen discussions questioning the ability of believers to do either biblical research or Christian history. A Christian will always defend what they believe and therefore cannot be impartial.

I’m not convinced that Christians are unable to do real church history. In fact, it has often been from within the church that the harshest criticism about the church has emerged.

Although I believe the Bible to be a reliable report about Jesus and the early church, I have no intention of ignoring the mistakes of the church.

Do I have a bias? Absolutely. I think that despite all its mistakes and failures that the church is something special. I wouldn’t be a pastor otherwise.

My bias will influence what I present in my podcast. But the same thing would happen if I was Jewish, Muslim, Mormon or atheist. I believe we need to own our bias.

My philosophy for historical research is to look for different perspectives. For example, when I get to the crusades, I will want to look beyond church accounts. I will want to look at modern secular treatments as well as Muslim interpretations of the events.

The presence of a bias does not disqualify something as valuable. It only means that we need to be aware of the bias and attempt to balance it with other perspectives as we are able.

My goal for this podcast is not to defend the actions of the church. Rather, I want to put the actions of the church in their historical context. Not only do I love the church, I also love history.

I hope that you will join me on this journey.

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