The Evangelical Universalist Forum

Questions about Biblical History sources

Hello everyone, I’ve actually been reading posts on this forum for a few years now, but have yet to post anything myself. This post is probably a horrible way to introduce myself, but here it goes.

I consider myself a very skeptical Christian, and if I still attended church, would probably be labeled a heretic. I am a sociology student, a liberal feminist, and lean pretty far left politically, but I also consider myself a follower of Christ. While I’ve been in college, I’ve seriously questioned many aspects of my faith. I came to fully accept EU around my sophomore year, and I attribute much of the information that convinced me to this website. I also read the Bible all the way through, cover to cover that previous summer. Although it was very painful at first, it turned out to be rewarding. The last two years or so I got really enthralled in my studies, and I stopped reading Theology and the Bible for quite some time. I will be graduating in a few weeks, and my skepticism has hit me full force. The timing of my current skepticism is not good. It all started when an interview of Bart Ehrman on NPR’s *Fresh Air *caught my attention. In this interview, he definitely had a lot of interesting things to say that I agreed with, but he also talked about his newest book How Jesus Became God. As a sociology major, this fascinated me. However, it made me question who Jesus was and the accuracy of the Bible itself. I am especially concerned with Ehrman’s concept of Christology. This interview can be found here: … become-one

I am no history buff, so naturally, I have not investigated Biblical history too much. But I have some serious questions that need answers. Nothing I’ve found so far has answered them to my satisfaction. I either get fundamentalist Christian writers who already presume the Bible is true and don’t take into account the social construction of choosing what went into the Bible, the controversy over shared mythology religions, etc, or biased secular scholars who ignore contextual evidence or try to use socially constructed disciplines, such as history, to supposedly disprove spiritual claims.

I honestly don’t know what’s true anymore. On the one hand, I don’t want to give up my faith and discount all of the great experiences I’ve had with it because of these questions. On the other hand, I highly respect academic scholars, even if I disagree with their premise. Who am I to say if the scriptures are authoritative or accurate? Maybe I’m just going crazy because I’m about to graduate and then go straight into 5 years of graduate school. Sociology is a very secular discipline, and although I think it has enhanced my faith, the mindset it has given me and the people I will be surrounded with will likely cause me to ask even more difficult questions as time goes on. If anyone knows of any good sources, books, etc or has their own explanations on the authority of scripture, Biblical history, or the role scripture should take in faith, that would be great. I don’t have a lot of time right now to sift through sources, and since this forum is full of very intelligent people that will not judge me for my questions, I figured this should be one place to look for answers.

Thanks for considering my questions,


Hiya, Sarah! Welcome to another questioner :slight_smile:
I’m sure there will be a lot of recommendations of stuff to check out, i’m not the best for reading lots of books on theology etc, and am rubbish at reading the Bible (despite reading it when i was a kid/teen several times, probably skipping a few bits)…but there are some really knowledgeable people here that might know some stuff that’ll interest you.

Hey Sarah,

I took a few Sociology classes in college and loved it. You can still believe in God and reject the Bible. But if you are interested in a Historical defense of Christ I would recommend Licona.

Hang in there.

Hi and welcome to the forum, Sarah!

I understand your concerns. Many times the answers Christians give to this are very unsatisfying. My kids have participated in AWANA at church, and one series of catechism style Q/A they had to memorize went along the lines of:

How do we know the Bible is true? Because it is the Word of God.
How do we know the Bible is the Word of God? Because it says so.

There was more, but I don’t remember it all. We had a blast laughing about those. :unamused:

Anyway, I’ll listen to the interview before giving more of a reply.


Hi Sarah, :smiley:

Welcome to the forum!
I think you would be ***ver***y interested in Peter Enns approach to scripture. He takes textual criticism, archaeology and scientific discoveries very seriously and acknowledges the “humaness” of the Bible. His approach has been very helpful to me. Here’s a link to his Interestingly, he did a podcast interview with Randal Rauser and Bart Ehrman was addressed “indirectly” (posted just a few days ago). I haven’t listened to it yet, but will link to

I’ll have more to say after I’ve listened to the NPR interview.

Great having you here!

Steve (another heretic :wink: )

Just listened to the NPR interview with Bart Ehrman and the interview by Randal Rauser of Peter Enns. It reminded me why I much prefer written documents to audio. Crikey! :smiley:

OK, that would be great on long drive across Wyoming but otherwise—give me written prose. :laughing:
My reaction to Ehrman is that he is a conscientious and honest historian. Seems like a likable guy and much of what he presents I don’t disagree with. I think he presents conclusions that he thinks are likely (as far as Jesus’ lack of burial in a tomb etc) that are supported by history,but could very well have occurred as in the biblical narrative as well. His discussion of how the early Christians began to view Jesus as divine has more support, but is not unassailable. I’ve done a bit of google searching and it appears there’s a version of he book with a rebuttal by some evangelical scholars. Would be interesting to see what they say. What I’d really like to see is NT (Tom) Wright’s thoughts…

So… interesting stuff I’d say but not fatal to a relatively orthodox view of Jesus. From what I’ve read, over the years he (Ehrman) has changed his views on Jesus, which has actually annoyed atheists and sceptics to no end. He thinks Jesus actually did exist (a major concession from some camps), and also thinks the early Christians believed Jesus was Divine. Interesting that he mentions in the NPR interview that a Christian historian colleague had no problems with what he presented. Anyway, I don’t think there’s anything to fear from his work. (Though it may require a change in how we view scripture.)

The interview with Peter Enns was pretty good but a bit long. There are some great quotes by Enns, though. ***Quote of the year: “Fear dominates theology.” ***

Probably best just to read his blog… :wink: If anyone is interested in reading his books, I’d recommend “The Evolution of Adam” over “Inspiration and Incarnation”. What he presents in I&I is also presented in “Adam” with more specifics and detail.



Do you know a good book that argues against inerrancy of the Bible?

Yes, Cole. :smiley:
Peter Enns’s “Inspiration and Incarnation” as well as “The Evolution of Adam” are both excellent books and present what I believe (and argue against inerrancy). “The Evolution of Adam” presents what Enns said in I & I plus some specifics regarding Genesis, ancient creations myths, Paul’s use of OT scriptures, etc that is really excellent.

I shall order.

Man! You’ve ordered a lot of books lately, Cole. You might want to hold off until you’ve caught up a bit. (But that’s just me… :laughing: )


I’ll catch up. Might as well order now though. You ought to see my room. :smiley:

Cole! THAT my friend is why I love my Kindle. :laughing:


Welcome! And it occurs to me that we (or I at any rate) haven’t seen our resident historian, [tag]Sobornost[/tag] much in the last several days. :frowning: He may already have posted some things that would interest you. I’m so glad you’ve come out of the shadowlands to talk to us! I’m afraid I don’t have a lot of substance to say about your conundrum, but Steve (Alec Forbes) and Sonia (SLJ) are great to talk to on that sort of thing – plus, Dick (Sobornost) is a walking history of the world.

Blessings and welcome to the “dark side!” :wink:


Hi Sarah -

I’ve been summoned by bells :laughing: Here’s an article that you might enjoy about the whole Quest for the Historical Jesus project. … rus-wright

Are you interested in the ‘sociology’ of the Bible too?


I strongly second Mike Licona’s book: it’s one of several I would have no problems handing to a non-religious folk anthropology professor (a weirdly specific example, I know, but I have reasons for the example. :wink: ) It’s mainly historical analysis of claims of Jesus’ resurrection, but covers the topic in super-depth.

Somewhat related is Gregory Boyd’s Cynic Sage or Son of God?, though that’s more a history of the quest for the historical Jesus up to the mid-90s, and a critical assessment of sceptical methodology up to that time – but including a lot of discussion about why they think they have to go those routes. Easily 1/3 of the book could be lifted directly as-is and republished as a defense in favor of various sceptical approaches, and I’d easily guess more than half the book total could be extracted (with a little more work) for that purpose. It’s moderately out of date now (20ish years later the quest has moved along a lot), but the methodological discussions are still (in my experience) accurate in principle.

Craig Keener is an experienced professor of ancient Greco-Roman history, and also once a staunch atheist. Then he got interested in studying the NT scriptures as key texts from the period which he had been ignoring due to lack of taste for them. Now he’s a Christian and he writes the most detailed historical analyses of the Gospels and Acts currently on the market and up to date. His two-volume set on GosJohn is required reading for that topic (though Craig Blomberg has a much shorter and slightly earlier book covering the same topic); his Historical Jesus of the Gospels dittos for the Synoptics, though he does have a more in-depth (and a bit earlier) analysis of GosMatt, too. His two-volume set on Acts is even more detailed (unsure if the 2nd volume has been released yet); Colin Hemer’s shorter and earlier semi-posthumous work The Book of Acts and its Setting in Hellenistic History is still mostly up-to-date if you’d like an equally professional but far less time-consuming read – it’s practically the modern standard textbook for the practice of histiography on ancient texts. (Keener’s work is an ample and worthy successor, though structured a bit differently.)

I don’t know about Maier’s Marginal Jew series firsthand – I bought most of the series many years ago but haven’t gotten around to reading them yet – but I hear many good things about them. Every time I remember I have them I want to dig them out and finally read the series. :slight_smile: Again, historical analysis of the canonical stories of Jesus with lots of sidebar topical digressions.

All the previously mentioned books are written by Christians of one or another flavor, but you won’t find any fundy attitudes or thought processes in them. (To them I could add NT Wright’s series on the NT, Jesus’ life up to the Passion, the Passion, and now I think Paul. I’m less uniformly fond of that series for various reasons, but not because he acts in a fundamentalist manner toward the texts.) They are highly professional works, massively footnoted with commentary and sources. (I must warn you YOU WILL NEVER GET TO THE END OF SPENDING ALL YOUR MONEY ON FASCINATING TOMES UNEARTHED IN THE FOOTNOTES!) The authors know how to bracket out their personal ideological preferences and concentrate on the data neutrally (though Boyd slips into apologist mode a little more than the others occasionally – always in an entertainingly critical way for my taste, but your mileage may vary). They’re hugely charitable to their opponents (even Boyd despite his occasional snippiness), and are clearly well-read in opposing arguments and viewpoints (even ones they regard as near crazy like the Jesus Myth proponents), often positively citing opponents for credit or as authorities. Like Licona’s tome, I would quickly hand any of them to a non-believing secularly trained folk anthropologist professor with an expectation of professional respect (both ways).

Dr. Ehrman’s professional specialty is textual criticism, at which he is no slouch (effectively being Bruce Metzger’s heir in one of the standard reference works on the topic) – but when he lets his ideological preferences (and apparently his love of public attention) get the better of him he can go off the rails and get in trouble. (To be fair, Dr. Metzger had some similar problems occasionally in the other direction.) He’s able to be much more neutrally moderate on the topic when he thinks he’s writing something only scholars are likely to read. He and Daniel Wallace like to spar a lot, mostly over Dr. E’s occasional public abuses of text-critical methodology and conclusions (though they agree on very much more than they disagree concerning that topic). I can point to some books from each of them concerning text-crit if you want; I’m not sure if you were asking about that, but it’s an important topic and one Dr. E is heavily connected to.

Sarah (continuing),

Okay, on post-canonical history of Patro/Christo/Pneumatological doctrinal development up to Nicaea. Dr. Ilaria Ramelli’s recent tome on Patristic universalists kind of serves that function along the way, but it’s hugely expensive and while that’s a very important secondary topic it is (after all) a somewhat secondary topic. I would recommend it for this purpose only in lieu of not having a more directly focused approach.

Not sure I have a good reference book on the topic myself that covers the whole period, but I can say Rowan Williams’ Arius: Heresy and Tradition covers the decades leading up to Nicaea in eye-bleeding scholarly detail and with positive respect to all sides. (I suspect Schaff has a good book on the topic, which I own but haven’t gotten around to yet; but it was written almost 200 years ago.)

Philip Jenkins wrote an accurate warts-and-all history of Christological doctrine development from just before Nicaea up through most of the Dark Ages (following the fall of Rome) in his duology Jesus Wars and The Lost History of Christendom. These are more like popular works, salted with Jenkins’ experienced and principled scholarship, but I recommend them easily to non-Christians or to Christians who want to respect the trinitarian results without rose-colored glasses.

I wish someone would extract and print Bulgakov’s very decent monographs on the history of doctrinal development, which he appends in extended introductions to each of his systematic theology trilogy. You could buy the trilogy just for those, of course, but right now they’re very expensive to get in North America (possibly also English-speaking Europe) and I don’t know that I can fairly recommend someone lay out that money for introductions to other books. Also, he’s a bit more partisan in his approach than the other scholars, writing as an official Orthodox theologian – this only tinges his historical introductions a little (and he works hard at ecumenical relation with Rome) but I’m sure there must be better introductions out there.

If you’re looking for more accessible (i.e. less technically scholarly) but still nuanced and realistic looks at Christological history topics, I might be able to recommend some other books. I’m unsure what you’re after or how much of it, so I’ve had to throw the net wide in some ways and narrow in others. :slight_smile: None of the books I’ve mentioned so far do much for arguing about why someone ought to believe various purely theological points, for example.

If however you’re (also?) looking for a detailed and carefully progressing argument about deciding what to believe metaphysically (arriving eventually at trinitarian theism and thence to Christian universalism), purely working on logical principles plus observations common to virtually everyone (not from ‘scriptural’ authority), you could do a lot worse than clicking the Sword to the Heart link in my sig and downloading entirely for free the +870-page book on the topic. I can’t sing its praises a whole lot myself, but some of the local members might have some positive recommendations after reading it themselves. :mrgreen:

Alright Jason, I will order “Sword To The Heart”. I hope it’s not too sophisticated. The things you say go over my head a lot of the time. I do love the concept of the Trinity.

You don’t have to order it, Cole. Just click the link in Jason’s siggy. You can have Amazon send it to your Kindle if you have one. Otherwise, you just read it on your computer. :wink:

I’ll try Cindy. I like books though. I don’t know what it is a bout computers, I just can’t get into the books that way.

I do need to get it printed someday, but for now it’s only a free pdf or doc file. Kindle can read either one, but will translate the doc file into kindle format if the file is emailed to one’s registered kindle account.