Understanding the New Testament

Join a historian to look at the New Testament with a new eye as you gain powerful insights into this influential series of books of the Bible.
Understanding the New Testament is rated 4.5 out of 5 by 50.
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Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellen I learned things I never learned from regular Bible Study. While there are some minor points I disagree with Dr. Brakke is honest and fair in his teachings and is open minded. He gives more than one viewpoint and then tells us his preference and why he believes this way. This is an excellent course which I highly recommend. I will listen to it again.
Date published: 2021-06-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wow! So well done. Very eye opening! As someone who was raised Catholic and experienced the church's Christian education methods and content, all I can say is this course is one that all Christians really deserve to have and should be required for anyone that wishes to cite the New Testament as a source of truth. This is a great foundation to any Christian education that embraces critical thinking. PROS --amazing content. I learned more in this one course about the New Testament and the Bible than I have in a whole lifetime of parental, church, and societal training. --fantastic professor. His teaching couldn't be more even-handed, clear-thinking, and easy for a student to absorb and understand. I can't say enough about what an excellent job he's done putting this course together and delivering it! --great visuals. Helpful and well done. --great pacing. It always seemed to be just my speed. --great design. Each section functioned well as a unit, and built on the prior sections as a coherent whole. Intelligent design at every level. CONS --None I could think of! I'll be giving this course as a gift to others!
Date published: 2021-05-31
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fascinating course biases and all The chronological ordering of lectures was particularly enlightening to me. It never had occurred to me that the order in which these books were written could shed so much light on the intentions and views of the various authors. Definitely not Sunday School and also not archeology. Dr. Brakke exhibits, like all scholars, some bias and assumptions. These are clearly defined from the first lecture and emphasized in the last. Those who can only learn from like minds will probably find this disappointing. I found all of his theoretical conclusions to be very well thought out and supported by the evidence he presents. Video is, I believe, unnecessary as the vast majority of information is in auditory form. Well done!
Date published: 2021-04-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Respectfully taught and informed by history While I enjoyed this course and learned from it, potential buyers should be aware that it is neither for Christians who want their faith bolstered nor for people looking to discredit or scoff at Christians. Professor Brakke's purpose, rather, is to inform us about what the various books that comprise the Christian canon (as it has existed since the 4th century) say, how and where they differ from or compliment one another in the information they contain, and what informed historical scholarship can tell us about the author and the conditions surrounding, or prompting, the author's writing. As a layman who has studied the Bible for several decades, I greatly appreciated the remarkable clarity Professor Brakke brought to laying out the central theme and arguments of each one of the works comprising the New Testament, especially as he threaded through the often quite complex reasoning of St. Paul. When he talks about the various miracles Jesus reportedly worked, as well as Jesus' resurrection, he just states simply what the books report and then comments that there is nothing a historian can contribute to understanding these reports because they feature interpretations that are faith-inspired rather than provable historical events. In saying this, he is not implying or hinting that such are not true, but just that we have no way of knowing using historical data. Whether you are a Jesus-follower or not (the early name given to those later called "Christians"), if you want a clear understanding of what the various books of the New Testament say, as well as insight into how and why they differ, then I strongly recommend this coherent, calm, and informative course. I will also seek out other courses taught by this highly competent historian.
Date published: 2021-03-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great information and easy to understand! I really enjoyed this course. I have learned a lot. I would recommend this to anyone who has an interest in the New Testament.
Date published: 2021-03-03
Rated 1 out of 5 by from What a Waste! Dr. Brakke has spent too much time with the Critical Analysists and not enough time with mainstream writers. No person that mainstream believes wrote these letters and Gospels really wrote them. No dating that mainstream believers consider as the date of writing is correct in his view. He should spend some time with authors such as Daniel Wallace and others in their internal and external evidence for authorship and dating. With this much doubt that he expresses, I can't understand how he was awarded an M.Div. I question whether he is a believer at all. What a waste!
Date published: 2021-02-24
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Understanding the New Testsment The problem is people, don’t read the entire context, and that everyone will say the same ending but in their interpatation
Date published: 2021-02-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Overview I really enjoyed the lectures. They were full of information and they helped me to shed my simplistic view concerning the appeal of Christianity. I loved that the professor mentioned Q, but I was a little sad that he didn't mention the role of historians like Josephus.
Date published: 2021-02-03
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In these 24 eye-opening episodes, Professor David Brakke takes you behind the scenes to study not only the text of the New Testament, but also the authors and the world in which it was created. You'll explore Jewish lives under Roman occupation, reflect on the apocalyptic mood of the first and second centuries AD, and witness the early Christians' evangelism beyond the Jewish communities.


David Brakke
David Brakke

What the people we will study would want us to do is to read their texts, to consider with open minds what they teach us, and-just possibly-to pursue our own quests for the truth about God and ourselves-that is, to seek our own gnosis.


The Ohio State University

Professor David Brakke is the Joe R. Engle Chair in the History of Christianity and Professor of History at The Ohio State University. He received his B.A. in English from the University of Virginia, his M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and his Ph.D. in Religious Studies from Yale University. He taught for 19 years in the Department of Religious Studies at Indiana University.

Professor Brakke has published extensively on the history and literature of ancient Christianity, especially Egyptian Christianity, early monasticism, the formation of the biblical canon, and Gnosticism. His books include The Gnostics: Myth, Ritual, and Diversity in Early Christianity; Demons and the Making of the Monk: Spiritual Combat in Early Christianity; and Introduction to Christianity, with Mary Jo Weaver. He has co-edited six volumes of scholarly essays and contributed nearly 40 articles to professional journals and volumes. From 2005 to 2015, he served as editor of the Journal of Early Christian Studies.

At Indiana University, Professor Brakke received recognition for his teaching and research, including the Outstanding Junior Faculty Award. He has held several important fellowships, including ones from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation. He is currently preparing a revised edition of Bentley Layton's The Gnostic Scriptures.

By This Professor

Understanding the New Testament


The Paradox of the New Testament

01: The Paradox of the New Testament

The New Testament is comprised of 27 books by more than a dozen authors, yet it is also presented as a single, unified text. How do you resolve the paradox of one book versus many? In this opening lecture, see how historians view the New Testament and why they are excited by its diversity of voices.

31 min
The Jewish Origins of Christian Faith

02: The Jewish Origins of Christian Faith

Before delving into the New Testament, you first must look at ancient Judaism for context about the birth of Christianity. Here, explore key stories and themes of the Old Testament—including God’s covenants with Abraham, Moses, and David, as well as Jewish eschatology—to understand the world of Jesus of Nazareth.

31 min
1 Thessalonians and Paul’s Ministry

03: 1 Thessalonians and Paul’s Ministry

The New Testament includes many types of narrative, among them gospels, epistles, and revelations. In this first lecture on Paul’s epistles, you will reflect on the chronologically earliest book of the New Testament. Examine the structure of a Pauline letter, and find out what his mission of evangelism was all about.

29 min
The Salvation of Gentiles in Galatians

04: The Salvation of Gentiles in Galatians

Continue your study of Paul’s epistles with a detailed look at his letter to the Galatians. In it, he offers a scathing rebuke to a congregation he believes has backslid after his departure. Find out why he believed it was so important to establish faith in Jesus as the one and only quality that gets you into heaven.

30 min
Romans on God, Faith, and Israel

05: Romans on God, Faith, and Israel

Paul’s letter to the Romans is his theological masterpiece. Because he had never been to Rome, he wrote this letter to introduce himself and his teachings to lay the groundwork for his arrival. Unpack the key message of his theology—namely, that one is made righteous solely through faith in Jesus Christ.

29 min
Community Conflicts in 1–2 Corinthians

06: Community Conflicts in 1–2 Corinthians

In this first of two lectures about Paul’s letters to the Corinthians, you will consider one tension inherent to Christian congregations. In Paul’s theology, everyone is equal in the eyes of the Lord, yet Corinth was a prosperous and diverse city. How did Paul reconcile economic, intellectual, and educational diversity with religious unity?

29 min
Worship and Leaders in Paul’s Congregations

07: Worship and Leaders in Paul’s Congregations

The two letters to the Corinthians give us great insight into Paul’s theology, but they also provide interesting historical evidence for how early Christian congregations operated. How did believers worship? Who were the church leaders? What were the roles for men and women? Find out what the letters tell us about the community.

30 min
Paul’s Theology on Slavery and Christ

08: Paul’s Theology on Slavery and Christ

Although Paul’s letters to Philemon and to the Philippians are very different, they have two important things in common. Paul wrote them both from prison, and they each concern slavery. Gain insight into Paul’s views around imprisonment, as well as his ideas about Christ’s humanity and divinity.

31 min
Adapting Paul’s Teachings to New Situations

09: Adapting Paul’s Teachings to New Situations

Not all of Paul’s letters were composed by the apostle himself. The three “Deutero-Pauline” letters (2 Thessalonians, Colossians, and Ephesians) likely date to the years after Paul’s death. In content, they seek to reassure readers that a series of events must occur before the end times arrive and that faith in Christ is all that is necessary for salvation in the present.

31 min
Jesus as the Suffering Son of Man in Mark

10: Jesus as the Suffering Son of Man in Mark

Shift your attention from Paul’s epistles to the gospels, starting with the Gospel According to Mark. After reviewing what historians know about the author and the book’s composition, Professor Brakke surveys the time of Jesus’ ministry and death and explicates the key themes of Mark’s gospel.

30 min
Jesus as the New Moses in Matthew

11: Jesus as the New Moses in Matthew

The unknown Christian who wrote the gospel now called Matthew presents a different theological portrait of Jesus and his ministry than Mark. Whereas Jesus in Mark is a mysterious figure, Matthew emphasizes Jesus’ divinity. In this lecture, compare the two gospels and what scholars believe about their composition.

30 min
The Church in the Gospel of Matthew

12: The Church in the Gospel of Matthew

Continue your study of the Gospel of Matthew, which gives us the only mention of the word “church” in all of the four gospels. Consider Matthew’s interest in forming and leading the church, and reflect on the conflict, in Matthew, between the Jesus who teaches Jewish law and the Jesus who critiques Jewish leaders.

29 min
Luke and Acts on God’s History of Salvation

13: Luke and Acts on God’s History of Salvation

The Gospel of Luke is the first book in a two-volume work, the second being the book of Acts. Luke presents himself as a historian, so consider the two-volume Luke-Acts as a historical work. Who were Luke’s sources? What story does he want to tell? How and why does his story unfold?

30 min
Luke’s Inclusive Message

14: Luke’s Inclusive Message

The grand narrative in the books Luke through Acts spans 60 years and presents a unified narrative of early Christian history. In this second lecture on Luke, look at the people and parables presented in his history—particularly the women, both named and anonymous, he writes about. Encounter a truly expansive, inclusive vision for Christianity.

29 min
The Apostles and Church in Luke and Acts

15: The Apostles and Church in Luke and Acts

Because Luke was writing as a historian, probably between the years A.D. 90 and A.D. 120, he didn’t merely re-create the past. Rather, Luke has a perspective on the history he tells. Unpack his vision of early Christian history and consider what message he is sending to his readers. Compare that message to the earlier “Gospel according to Mark.”

31 min
Jesus as the Divine Word in John

16: Jesus as the Divine Word in John

The “Gospel according to John” is an anomaly, set apart from the other three “Synoptic Gospels.” Although the basic story of Jesus remains the same, running from the ministry of John the Baptist to the death and resurrection of Jesus, John’s gospel contains more philosophy and has been called a more “spiritual” gospel.

31 min
Jesus and the Jews in the Gospel of John

17: Jesus and the Jews in the Gospel of John

In addition to its spiritual philosophy, the Gospel of John also contains troubling rhetoric around Jews and Judaism. Investigate the reasons behind John’s depiction of the Jews and why it is so negative. See why John’s portrayal of Jesus has made this gospel both an object of theological controversy and a source of deep spirituality.

30 min
The Community of John after the Gospel

18: The Community of John after the Gospel

What happened when an early Christian community began to fall apart? Disagreements over theology, challenges to church leadership, or disintegration of the group altogether were common, and the letters of John tackle these problems head-on. Delve into early efforts to unify a fractured church.

29 min
In Search of the Historical Jesus

19: In Search of the Historical Jesus

The “Historical Jesus” refers to the man named Jesus of Nazareth as opposed to the Christ we find in the gospels—a challenge for historians given that the gospels are our primary sources. Trace the development of biblical scholarship and research after the Renaissance and Enlightenment, when scholars began to think critically about the man named Jesus.

30 min
Interpreting Abraham in Hebrews and James

20: Interpreting Abraham in Hebrews and James

You might think of Abraham as belonging to the Old Testament, but he plays a mighty role in the writings of the New Testament. In the book of Hebrews, Abraham appears as a model of faith, whereas, in James he is an object of controversy over how people are saved—by faith alone or by faith and works.

31 min
Churches in Crisis in 1–2 Peter and Jude

21: Churches in Crisis in 1–2 Peter and Jude

Along with James and the three letters of John, 1-2 Peter and Jude are known as the “catholic” or general epistles because they are addressed to multiple congregations, or Christians, in general. See what these most recent books of the New Testament tell us about a mature and growing religious movement.

31 min
New Leaders in the Pastoral Epistles

22: New Leaders in the Pastoral Epistles

Paul’s first and second letters to Timothy and the letter to Titus form a special group of epistles because they were written not to congregations but to church pastors, offering advice for how individual leaders ought to conduct themselves and guide their congregations. Together, they help us explore the development of an independent, organized religion.

31 min
Revelation: Envisioning God’s Reality

23: Revelation: Envisioning God’s Reality

The book of Revelation presents a complex; symbolic; and, at times, even bizarre vision of the present day and the future. In this lecture, Professor Brakke outlines why the Romans persecuted the Christians before turning to the content of Christ’s revelation to John. Dive into this fascinating, challenging book.

32 min
The Quest for Unity in the New Testament

24: The Quest for Unity in the New Testament

In this final lecture, revisit the paradox between the New Testament’s diversity and unity, a single text comprised of 27 different books. See how theologians and scholars over the years have tackled this paradox. Examples include the Christian leaders Irenaeus, Origen, and Martin Luther, as well as modern historical researchers.

33 min