Phoebe, carrier of Paul’s letter to the Roman Christians

Romans 16 has been the subject of growing attention in scholarship for the last few years. Where an earlier generation might have thought it an addition, or an aside, commentators increasingly now see it as exemplifying a number of Paul’s concerns expressed earlier in the letter, and giving a vital window into Paul’s understanding and practice as … Continue Reading

How should Luke 16.19­–31 shape our view of heaven and hell?

The story of the rich man and Lazarus appears on first reading to depict a detailed ‘map’ of ‘heaven’ and ‘hell’, but is this the right way to read it?

First, it is worth noting that the words ‘heaven’ and ‘hell’ themselves do not occur in the parable. The NT talks about post-mortem life in a range of ways, not all of them easy to reconcile with one another. Perhaps the most controlling one would be the idea of ‘sleep’ as used by Paul in, for example, 1 Cor 15. ‘Heaven’ in the NT mostly appears to refer to the realm of God’s presence, reign and reality, and the central NT hope is not that we will leave the earth to go to heaven, but that God’s realm will come down to the earth (see Rev 21). (See Tom Wright’s Grove booklet for the most accessible exposition of this.)

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Undesigned coincidences and historical reliability

Dr Tim McGrew of the Library of Historical Apologetics just posted a fascinating document in a private Facebook group of which I am a part:

Sometimes two historical records incidentally touch on the same point in a manner that would be very unlikely if one of them were copied from the other or if both were copied from a common source. For example, one account of an event may leave out a bit of information, leaving some natural question unanswered, while a different account indirectly supplies the missing detail and, in so doing, answers that question. When this happens, the best explanation is that both records are grounded in the actual historical event; that is why the two bits fit together so well.

Forgers do not want to leave loose ends like this that might raise awkward questions; they take care to tie everything together neatly. But these are just the sort of things we would expect to find in authentic records of the same real event told by different people who knew what they were talking about.

He then goes on to give some key examples from the gospels:

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Preaching on narrative

Last week I had the interesting experience of preaching on Mark 14–15.15, which covers the anointing at Bethany, Judas agreeing to betray Jesus, the last supper, Gethsemane, Peter’s denial, Jesus’ trial before the Sanhedrin, and Jesus before Pilate. Whew! But I learnt a lot from the experience.

1. This is not the usual way we treat these passages—most of the time I would imagine we aim to preach on each episode in detail. That is one way to read them, but another (and probably more common) way of reading in the early centuries would have been to have heard larger pieces of narrative, and so have a better feel for the whole ‘shape.’ At St Nic’s we have been working through Mark, and

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Is the NT mostly forged?

Attacks on the reliability of the NT have moved in recent years from focussing on the question of historical reliability to the question of how the NT documents were written, handled and included in what was to become ‘Scripture.’ This is because of the continuing discovery of earlier and diverse manuscripts, and the related discipline of textual criticism.

Chief amongst the antagonists has been Bart Ehrman, about whom I wrote here in connection with the BBC’s ‘Beauty of Books‘ which began with a critique of Codex Siniaticus.

Last month, Ehrman’s latest work Forged was published, claiming that the majority of books in the NT were actually written by people other than the ones later attributed to them. Renowned scholar Ben Witherington has written a detailed eight-part critique of Ehrman’s book; links to all parts can be found here at the last one and I include the links at the bottom of the page here. They are really worth reading if you have the time, since they offer a great education in the facts of early Christian writing, and assumptions in the wider first-century world. But I cite his

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Swinging the lead: codices are fake

Note: a follow-up comment to this post can be found here.

Last week the BBC reported on an apparent struggle by Jordan to gain return of small books with pages of lead. Robert Pigott’s article claimed

They could be the earliest Christian writing in existence, surviving almost 2,000 years in a Jordanian cave. They could, just possibly, change our understanding of how Jesus was crucified and resurrected, and how Christianity was born.

What is surprising is that the Telegraph made an even more extravagant report only today, despite it now being almost certain that these items are fake.

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2 Corinthians: Strength in weakness

I am working with Celia Kellett at BBC Radio Nottingham on an idea to present most of the books of the Bible, one a week, during 2011 as part of the celebrations of the King James Bible.The plan is to read some verses from the book, to give a one-and-a-half minute summary, to hear a human interest story which relates, and then include a short discussion making the connections.

Here are the key verses and summary for Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians to be broadcast this Sunday 3rd April from around 7.45 am:

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Great commentary on Ephesians

There is a very good, detailed survey of commentaries, published Biblical Studies Bulletin (which is sent to subscribers to the Grove Biblical series) and available online here. We did a full survey of commentaries on Ephesians some time ago in 1999, and updated it in 2004. Since then Ben Witherington has contributed a volume (on his way to writing commentaries on all the books of the New Testament) and I would strongly recommend anyone adding it to their ‘must buy’ list. It combines comment on Philemon, Colossians and Ephesians as three ‘captivity’ epistles directed at an Asian audience.

Witherington is well known for his use of ‘socio-rhetorical’ criticism, and whilst not all are persuaded of its value, I think it is a very significant approach, particularly for those interested in the application of scholarship in a ministry context. Since this approach focuses on the original impact of the forms of language we have before us, it bridges the divide between ‘historical’ and ‘literary’ approaches to text, and potentially offers a disciplined way of engaging with the formational power of the text.

Was the text of the NT ‘unstable’ and ‘evolving’?

The BBC started their new series ‘The Beauty of Books’ looking at two epoch-making books, the Winchester Bible (from around 1100) and Codex Sinaiticus, from around 350. Sinaiticus is hugely significant, since it is the earliest complete Bible, and was the fruit of the stability for the Christian faith in the Roman Empire resulting from the Constantinian settlement. (Janet Soskice’s Sisters of Sinai about its discovery is supposed to be a ripping read.) You can view the manuscript for yourself in amazing detail at its website.

The programme highlighted what an extraordinary technical achievement its

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