The New Testament

This essay concerns some of what is known about the biblical "New Testament".

Mark's Gospel (the author is anonymous) is probably the oldest, written after 60 AD (it is thus also later than Paul's epistles). The language and general outlook of this Gospel point to an author who lived outside Palestine and who wrote for Gentiles; this book, together with a collection of Jesus' sayings, and another written account in Matthew's case, forms the basis for Matthew and Luke (which is continued in Acts).

The Gospel of John has fundamental differences from the other three (which are called the Synoptics), and there were others, such as the "Gospel of Thomas", which didn't make it into the canon (the earliest list of the current 27 books, by Athanasius, bishop of Alexandria, Egypt, is dated at 367 AD). The actual authorship of these Gospels is not known; it is likely that they were not even named until about 100 AD.

Likewise, there are substantial questions about the authorship of some of the books attributed to the Apostle Paul - EG, it has been known since antiquity that Paul did not write the book of Hebrews, or, almost certainly, the "Pastoral Epistles" (1 and 2 Timothy and Titus). There are also substantial doubts about Paul's authorship of Ephesians, Colossians, and 2 Thessalonians (and it has been known since antiquity that the Gospel and letters of John were not written by the author of Revelation; apparently, that was a different "John").

And, in the books which are undisputedly attributed to Paul, it appears likely that there were some things inserted during the copying process; EG, it appears likely that I Cor. 14:34-35, where the rights of women are denied, was not written by Paul.

And, some of the statements in the New Testament appear to plainly contradict reality, or deny basic democratic rights: EG, Matthew 24:37-39, in which Jesus endorses the Noah story; Romans 13:1-7 (which has been used many times to reinforce the Divine Right of Kings); or, Ephesians 5:22-6:9, in which backward systems of "authority" are mandated (the Greek word translated "Servants" in the King James Bible, in Ephesians 6:5, actually means "slaves").

And slavery in ancient Rome (until about 200 AD) meant that the slave owner had the power to kill the slave at will; one reason so many people were able to get a free living in that time and place, while spending days watching bloody entertainments, was that slaves were doing much of the work.

And, are there parallels between this, and our own time and place? States such as Texas and Virginia, which by far lead the US in "capital punishment", are the same ones which joined the Confederacy in 1861. What sense does the death penalty make, but popular entertainment through blood lust? Anti-death-penalty Information

If our culture about religion involves Christianity, let's try to separate the wheat from the chaff. There must be good in such statements as John 8:7, "He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her" (even though that story was inserted after the Gospel of John was put together [probably from multiple sources]), or John 15:12, "This is my commandment, that you love one another, as I have loved you."


The New Testament - A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings, by Bart D. Ehrman (Oxford University Press, 2000)

Brush up your Bible! (1993), by Michael Macrone (part of a series of such books from Random House)

Gladiator, by Richard Ross Watkins (Houghton Mifflin, 1997) - in the children's section in Barnes & Noble


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