The New Testament
01: The Early Christians and Their Literature
In our strictly historical study of the New Testament, our overarching questions will include: Who were the actual authors? To whom did they write?
02: The Greco-Roman Context
Why must anyone who hopes to interpret the New Testament understand its historical context? What was the religious environment of the Greco-Roman world like? How was ancient paganism different from what people today think of as religion?
03: Ancient Judaism
Judaism, into which Jesus was born, was like other religions of the Greco-Roman world in some respects, but very different in others. At the time of Jesus, it had several sects. Many Jews embraced apocalyptic ideas, maintaining that God would soon intervene in history, crushing evil and bringing about his kingdom on Earth.
04: The Earliest Traditions About Jesus
Even though the earliest traditions about Jesus go back to eyewitnesses, the Gospels were not written down for several decades. Why do scholars think that during this period, some traditions about Jesus came to be modified or even created?
05: Mark-Jesus the Suffering Son of God
Mark is the shortest and oldest of the four Gospels. Its unknown author had access to oral traditions about Jesus. Mark orders these traditions into a portrait of Jesus as the authoritative but almost universally misunderstood Messiah and Son of God, whose mission is to suffer and die for the sins of the world.
06: Matthew-Jesus the Jewish Messiah
Because Matthew, Mark, and Luke share so many of the same stories, they are often called the "Synoptic" Gospels. Their similarities are usually taken to mean that one, Mark, served as a source for the other two. One of the ways to study Matthew and Luke is to compare them to Mark, looking for evidence of modifications. Matthew in particular stresses Jesus' Jewish identity and his relatio...
07: Luke-Jesus the Savior of the World
Luke emphasizes Jesus as a Jewish prophet. Jesus knows that it is God's plan for his salvation to go out to the whole world, and hence does not predict the imminent end of the age. The message of salvation must first go out to the Gentiles, which will take time. Since the church will be in the world for a long haul, Luke puts a special stress on Jesus' "social" message of compassion for ...
08: John-Jesus the Man from Heaven
In John's strikingly singular account, Jesus' own identity is the core issue. Rather than simply being a misunderstood representative of God's will, or a rejected prophet, or a Jewish messiah sent from the Jewish God in fulfillment of the Jewish scriptures, John's Jesus is himself divine, equal with God, an incarnation of God's own Word through which he created the universe.
09: Noncanonical Gospels
More than 20 Gospels survive that did not make it into the New Testament. Most are highly legendary and use earlier written accounts as sources. They can be categorized as either narrative or "sayings" Gospels. In this lecture, you will examine examples of each, including one that is among the most exciting archaeological finds of modern times: the "Gnostic" Gospel of Thomas un...
10: The Historical Jesus-Sources and Problems
In this lecture, you move beyond a discussion of the early Christian Gospels as literary texts, each with a distinctive portrayal of Jesus, to consider their value as historical sources. How can sources that appear to contain discrepancies and that have their own theological agendas be used to achieve a historical reconstruction of the life of the man who stands behind them all?
11: The Historical Jesus-Solutions and Methods
What criteria do scholars use to determine which surviving traditions about Jesus preserve historically reliable information? This lecture explores these criteria at greater length, explaining the logic behind each and exploring several examples of how they can be applied.
12: Jesus the Apocalyptic Prophet
Why does careful research indicate that the historical Jesus is best understood as a 1st-century Jewish apocalpyticist? What are the beliefs that fit under the rubric "apocalypticist," and how do the words and deeds of Jesus reveal his relationship to them?
13: The Acts of the Apostles
Written by the evangelist Luke, Acts narrates the growth and spread of the church, starting from just after Jesus' ascension. In this lecture we will explore this narrative, examine the historical accuracy of some of its accounts, and discuss Luke's perspective.
14: Paul-The Man, the Mission, and the Modus Operandi
Apart from Jesus, the most important figure in early Christianity was the apostle Paul. For various reasons, a clear picture of his life and teachings is elusive. Yet a careful reading of his letters and the book of Acts reveals significant information about the life and work of this highly religious Pharisaic Jew who became a Christian missionary, intent on spreading the Gospel among the Gentiles...
15: Paul and the Crises of His Churches-First Corinthians
Why can we take Paul's first letter to the Christians at Corinth as representative of all his writings? What are the problems besetting this community of believers? What is the Apostle's impassioned response?
16: Pauline Ethics
Paul's writings are pervaded by a concern for upright, moral living. He believes that even the Gentiles should strive to follow the ethical laws of the Jewish Scriptures, especially the command of Leviticus 19:18 that one should love one's neighbor as oneself. Given Paul's teaching that salvation cannot be gained through observance of God's law, does his ethical concern represent a paradox? Finall...
17: Paul's Letter to the Romans
What is unique about the letter to the Romans? What are the two different models of salvation through Christ that Paul propounds here? And what part does God's revealed law, given to the Jews and preserved by them in the Hebrew Bible, play in God's ultimate plan of redemption?
18: Paul, Jesus, and James
In previous lectures we have examined the teachings of the historical Jesus and the theological views of the apostle Paul. In this lecture we will compare what we have found, adding the views of the apostle James to gain a rounded sense of the diversity of early Christian beliefs.
19: The Deutero-Pauline Epistles
This lecture considers some of the Deutero-Pauline epistles, so called because scholars accord them a secondary place within the Pauline corpus. Writing in someone else's name was a well-known practice in the ancient world, and could be a good strategy for getting one's work read. In this lecture, most of our attention will focus on Ephesians, which speaks eloquently of the unity of Jew and Gentil...
20: The Pastoral Epistles
What makes the letters 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus pastoral epistles? Why are scholars convinced that Paul himself could not have written them?
21: The Book of Hebrews and the Rise of Christian Anti-Semitism
Did you know that the so-called epistle to the Hebrews is neither an epistle nor addressed to the Hebrews? To whom is it addressed, then, and for what purpose? Why does it teach what it does about the superiority of Christianity to Judaism, and why did the early Christians include it in the canon?
22: First Peter and the Persecution of the Early Christians
This lecture briefly discusses 1 Peter and its teachings on suffering for the faith. Then it explores more broadly the issue of persecution in early Christianity. What was the status of Christianity under the Roman empire? Why were there outbreaks of persecution against Christians, and how systematic were the abuses inflicted on followers of Christ?
23: The Book of Revelation
The Revelation of John is probably the most fascinating book in the New Testament, and almost certainly the most widely misunderstood. This lecture explores apocalyptic writing as a symbol-rich literary form, and argues that this particular Christian apocalypse is best read within its own historical context of religious persecution under the Roman Empire.
24: Do We Have the Original New Testament?
No original manuscript of any book in the New Testament appears to have survived. There are thousands of handwritten copies in Greek, but most date from centuries after the originals, no two match completely, and all are filled with mistakes.