A History of the Bible

A History of the Bible

Normally I detest 600 plus page books, but John Barton’s History of the Bible is an exception.  If the story he tells is not always compelling, it is almost always interesting.  I focus on his account of the New Testament.  Barton tells a story familiar to Biblical scholars, but I’m not one, and I assume most of my readers aren’t either.  Mine is not a book review, but I stick closely to his text.

Paul or the gospels?

Paul wrote first, about twenty years after the death of Jesus.  The first gospel, Mark, was not written until about forty years after Christ’s death.  Surprising is that Paul has a more developed Christology, a theory of the divinity of Christ.  The Synoptic Gospels (Mark, Matthew, Luke) never identify Jesus with God, and have nothing to say about the Trinity.  The only exception is Matthew 28:19, which most scholars think was an addition by later editors.*  (The term gospels refers to the Synoptic Gospels unless John is specifically included.  They are called that because there is so much overlap in their content.) 

The gospels openly puzzle about who Jesus is.  Jesus himself is not very helpful, claiming only that he is not God. “Why do you call me good?  No one is good but God alone.” (Mark 10:18). So, who is he?  The son of God, you say, but this subordinates Jesus to God, which is incompatible with the doctrine of the Trinity, which says that Jesus is God.  The point, and Barton makes it again and again, is that Christian doctrine, such as the Trinity, is not supported by the Bible.  The doctrine came later. 

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