Audiobook Rreview: Great Courses: The History Of The Bible: The Making Of The New Testament Canon

Great Courses:  The History Of The Bible:  The Making Of The New Testament Canon, taught by Professor Bart D. Ehrman

Unfortunately, in order to teach a course about the making of the New Testament canon, someone has to know it, and in this course as well as in his other works [1], the instructor of this course has shown himself to be rather poor in terms of his biblical knowledge.  The best that can be said for this course is that the author is generally humorous and charming, but he’s unfortunately not a good authority for what the Bible says or how it came to be, and the way he makes fun of his undergraduates seems to suggest that he has a contempt for those who believe in the Bible and who strive to follow it, a contempt that does not wear well on the professor as well.  Perhaps this book is best aimed at those who do not know about the Bible and who only want to know a negative and critical view of it, but as someone who is definitely not in that target audience I found this course to be largely a waste of time and found little enjoyable or profitable in it.

This course is mercifully a short one, with twelve half an hour lectures on six cds.  The course opens with a superficial overview of the New Testament and then the professor looks at Paul as the earliest Christian author.  Unfortunately, the author seems to have the same mistaken view of Paul that was condemned in 2 Peter (which the author cites as evidence for early canonizing of literature among Christians) and that is held by many contemporary antinomians.  After that comes a discussion of the seven epistles that the author considers are genuinely Pauline and then a grossly exaggerated discussion of issue of pseudonymity where he assumes that authorship was not a serious concern among ancient Christians.  The professor then discusses the beginnings of the Gospel Traditions by making some kind of imaginary discussion about how the truth of the Gospel spread and then looks at the earliest Gospels (the four in the Bible) and some other gospels that for various reasons “missed the cut.”  The professor then looks at apocalypticism and Revelation, exaggerates the problem of textual error and makes some assumptions about higher textual criticism, and then closes with discussions on authority in the early church, the importance of interpretation, and the finalizing of the canon and the arguments over orthodoxy and apolosticity.

As an unreliable narrator of the matters of his course, the author fails to provide much in the way of insight into how things actually happened.  He has a lot of bogus ideas, a lot of just-so stories, and has a sometimes entertaining manner, but he has little in the way of knowledge.  A big part of the problem of the author is that he wants to do contradictory things.  His authority to speak about the scriptures is harmed by the fact that he comes to the New Testament as a judge and as a critic rather than as someone who wishes to repent and obey God.  In addition, he both wants to cut out what he does not like about the scriptures and simultaneously add a great deal of respect for obviously bogus books that he whines were left out of the canon somewhat unfairly, even as he freely admits that many of these were not ancient or apostolic works at all.  Unless one wants to look at how higher critics see the Bible, and that is not a task that is enjoyable or profitable for many people, there is little to enjoy or appreciate about this work except that it has all the hallmarks of scholarly arrogance as well as ignorance.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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