Before I jump right into reading the New Testament and posting my comments, I’d like to take a couple of paragraphs to talk about how I want to approach the whole project.
First and foremost, I want to keep an open mind. I spent half of my life in an evangelical church, and I understand how believers approach the Bible, how they read it, and how they feel God intends for it to be read. I don’t necessarily intend to abandon that kind of reading, but to add to it. There are earnest Christians who seek to understand the history, culture, and politics of the early Christian world in hopes of having a better understanding; I applaud that approach, and hope to incorporate some of that into my writing.
There are academics who take a completely different approach, which is to question nearly every claim that Christians make about the Bible – who actually wrote each book, when the books were written, whether the words of Jesus are recorded by first-hand observers, etc. Books of this genre, including Who Wrote the Bible by Richard Elliot Friedman and the much more recently written Forged by Bart Ehrman raise a lot of questions about the Bible’s authenticity that any serious believer should not be afraid to consider. I read Friedman’s book years ago when I still considered myself an evangelical, and it didn’t challenge my faith as much as affirm it. Some of his insights really livened up the Sunday School lessons I was teaching at the time. I’ve just finished Ehrman’s and it only confirms what serious students of the Bible since Martin Luther have said – the traditional attributions of authorship for many of the books don’t always seem accurate.
From my point of view, it doesn’t matter so whose approach you choose. What is of more interest to me is how scriptures are interpreted today in American society to form a prevailing religious mindset, and whether those interpretations are beneficial or damaging to our nation as a whole. I think anyone who truly wants to find truth can look at both sides of an issue without having to join one camp or another. I’m hoping to incorporate what I know about both approaches to the New Testament, and hopefully find common ground between those who fervently believe and those who don’t.
I’m going to start reading the books in the order in which they were written, not in the order in which they appear in the New Testament. Whenever there are huge discrepancies in dates, I’ll make a judgement call, but will lean towards a more traditional dating. That means I’ll start with the letters of Paul, then work through the synoptic gospels. After Luke, we’ll go through Acts, the letters of other apostles, and end with pretty much everything attributed to John. I think studying them in this order should help us see the ideology of the Bible unfold, with the ideas presented in the order in which they were developed, not the order someone put them in 300 years later.
Ironically, my Dad sent me an email just yesterday, not knowing that I had just announced my intention to blog the NT. He urged me to ‘get back into the Word’, confident that anyone who does so will find God there. My brother, on the other hand, who recently ‘outed’ himself as an atheist, seems to think that actually reading the Bible with an open mind is the surest path to non-belief. It seems I’ll be walking a fine line to keep them both happy!
It will be interesting to see which way things go.