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New Testament

New Testament

Professor Bart D. Ehrman Ph.D., M.Div.
The University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
Course No.  656
Course No.  656
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Course Overview

About This Course

24 lectures  |  30 minutes per lecture

Whether you consider it a book of faith or a cultural artifact, the New Testament is among the most significant writings that the world has ever known. Scarcely a single major writer in the last 2,000 years has failed to rely on the web of meaning contained in the New Testament to communicate. Yet the New Testament is also among the most widely disputed and least clearly understood books in history.

In these lectures Professor Bart D. Ehrman develops for you a carefully reasoned understanding of the New Testament—and the individuals and communities who created its texts.

Importantly, Professor Ehrman's approach is as an historian, and the course "suspends" belief or disbelief to understand how, when, why, and by whom the New Testament was written. He explains in detail the light that historical research brings to the texts. He also reviews key texts omitted from the New Testament.

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Whether you consider it a book of faith or a cultural artifact, the New Testament is among the most significant writings that the world has ever known. Scarcely a single major writer in the last 2,000 years has failed to rely on the web of meaning contained in the New Testament to communicate. Yet the New Testament is also among the most widely disputed and least clearly understood books in history.

In these lectures Professor Bart D. Ehrman develops for you a carefully reasoned understanding of the New Testament—and the individuals and communities who created its texts.

Importantly, Professor Ehrman's approach is as an historian, and the course "suspends" belief or disbelief to understand how, when, why, and by whom the New Testament was written. He explains in detail the light that historical research brings to the texts. He also reviews key texts omitted from the New Testament.

"Our ultimate goal is to come to a fuller appreciation and understanding of these books that have made such an enormous impact on the history of Western civilization and that continue to play such an important role for people today," says Dr. Ehrman.

Bringing Scholarly Evidence to Bear

This course is designed to introduce the writings of the New Testament—the most widely read, quoted, studied, debated, maligned, and believed book in the history of Western civilization.

Many people remain unaware of how the New Testament was written and transmitted. This course draws on modern biblical scholarship, recent archaeological discoveries, and careful literary analysis to trace the history of the New Testament and of the early Christian faith community.

"The books of the New Testament," says Professor Ehrman, are "best understood when situated in their own historical context—rather than taken out of context."

Professor Ehrman has crafted this course as a historical introduction to the 27 books of the New Testament, to allow you to come to understand their content, meaning, and historical accuracy. The course will address such significant questions as:

  • Who wrote these books, under what circumstances, and for what audience?
  • What do the books of the New Testament say, what do they mean, and how historically accurate are they?
  • How can we can come to more fully appreciate and understand them?

Professor Ehrman is always mindful of the limitations imposed by the available data and methods. Consider just some of the difficulties faced by scholars of this work, as Dr. Ehrman notes:

"The earliest manuscript of any kind from the New Testament that we have is a tiny scrap that's about the size of a credit card. It's written on the front and back. It originally came from a full manuscript of the Gospel of John. This little fragment was probably produced in the early part of the 2nd century. Most scholars date this papyrus to around the year 125, give or take 25 years, so it could have been written as early as 100, possibly as late as the year 150."

Professor Ehrman brings impressive scholarly evidence to bear on the task of reconstructing the life and ministry of Jesus and the origins of Christianity in the decades before and during the composition of the books that make up the New Testament.

Appreciate the New Testament More Completely

Dr. Ehrman clearly orients you in the world of Greco-Roman pagan cults and the world of early Judaism—examining the beliefs, sacred spaces, liturgical practices, and distinguishing features of the religions surrounding the birth of Christianity.

The lectures lead you through each of the New Testament texts and their context—contrasting the varied portrayals of Jesus in the Gospels, each with its own perspective.

Each of the Gospels is also examined in the light of historical evidence and evaluation. The course examines the importance and context of Paul, the most significant figure in the rise of Christianity besides Jesus. The course ends with an exploration of the Book of Revelation.

The study of the New Testament in this course is broad and often surprising. Consider these themes from the course:

  • The earliest records of Jesus are probably right in portraying him as an apocalyptic prophet who anticipated God would soon intervene in the course of history to overthrow the forces of evil and establish his good kingdom on Earth, and that people needed to repent in preparation for it.
  • The Gospels are our principal sources for knowing about the life and teachings of Jesus, but they are also major literary works in their own right, each with its own perspective on who Jesus was and why his life and death matter.
  • Jesus is portrayed individually in all the Gospels, including two Gospels that did not make it into the New Testament, the Gospels of Peter and Thomas.
  • Many people believe that the relationship between Paul and Jesus enabled Paul, through his writings, to transform the religion of Jesus into a religion about Jesus.
  • Modern scholars examining some New Testament books that claim Paul as their author have concluded that they are, in fact, pseudonymous.
  • Portions of the New Testament were included hundreds of years after the death of Christ.
View Less
24 Lectures
  • 1
    The Early Christians and Their Literature
    In our strictly historical study of the New Testament, our overarching questions will include: Who were the actual authors? To whom did they write? x
  • 2
    The Greco-Roman Context
    Why must anyone who hopes to interpret the New Testament understand its historical context? What was the religious environment of the Greco-Roman world like? How was ancient paganism different from what people today think of as religion? x
  • 3
    Ancient Judaism
    Judaism, into which Jesus was born, was like other religions of the Greco-Roman world in some respects, but very different in others. At the time of Jesus, it had several sects. Many Jews embraced apocalyptic ideas, maintaining that God would soon intervene in history, crushing evil and bringing about his kingdom on Earth. x
  • 4
    The Earliest Traditions About Jesus
    Even though the earliest traditions about Jesus go back to eyewitnesses, the Gospels were not written down for several decades. Why do scholars think that during this period, some traditions about Jesus came to be modified or even created? x
  • 5
    Mark—Jesus the Suffering Son of God
    Mark is the shortest and oldest of the four Gospels. Its unknown author had access to oral traditions about Jesus. Mark orders these traditions into a portrait of Jesus as the authoritative but almost universally misunderstood Messiah and Son of God, whose mission is to suffer and die for the sins of the world. x
  • 6
    Matthew—Jesus the Jewish Messiah
    Because Matthew, Mark, and Luke share so many of the same stories, they are often called the "Synoptic" Gospels. Their similarities are usually taken to mean that one, Mark, served as a source for the other two. One of the ways to study Matthew and Luke is to compare them to Mark, looking for evidence of modifications. Matthew in particular stresses Jesus' Jewish identity and his relationship to currents within the Judaism of his age. x
  • 7
    Luke—Jesus the Savior of the World
    Luke emphasizes Jesus as a Jewish prophet. Jesus knows that it is God's plan for his salvation to go out to the whole world, and hence does not predict the imminent end of the age. The message of salvation must first go out to the Gentiles, which will take time. Since the church will be in the world for a long haul, Luke puts a special stress on Jesus' "social" message of compassion for the poor and downtrodden. x
  • 8
    John—Jesus the Man from Heaven
    In John's strikingly singular account, Jesus' own identity is the core issue. Rather than simply being a misunderstood representative of God's will, or a rejected prophet, or a Jewish messiah sent from the Jewish God in fulfillment of the Jewish scriptures, John's Jesus is himself divine, equal with God, an incarnation of God's own Word through which he created the universe. x
  • 9
    Noncanonical Gospels
    More than 20 Gospels survive that did not make it into the New Testament. Most are highly legendary and use earlier written accounts as sources. They can be categorized as either narrative or "sayings" Gospels. In this lecture, you will examine examples of each, including one that is among the most exciting archaeological finds of modern times: the "Gnostic" Gospel of Thomas unearthed at Nag Hammadi, Egypt, in 1947. x
  • 10
    The Historical Jesus—Sources and Problems
    In this lecture, you move beyond a discussion of the early Christian Gospels as literary texts, each with a distinctive portrayal of Jesus, to consider their value as historical sources. How can sources that appear to contain discrepancies and that have their own theological agendas be used to achieve a historical reconstruction of the life of the man who stands behind them all? x
  • 11
    The Historical Jesus—Solutions and Methods
    What criteria do scholars use to determine which surviving traditions about Jesus preserve historically reliable information? This lecture explores these criteria at greater length, explaining the logic behind each and exploring several examples of how they can be applied. x
  • 12
    Jesus the Apocalyptic Prophet
    Why does careful research indicate that the historical Jesus is best understood as a 1st-century Jewish apocalpyticist? What are the beliefs that fit under the rubric "apocalypticist," and how do the words and deeds of Jesus reveal his relationship to them? x
  • 13
    The Acts of the Apostles
    Written by the evangelist Luke, Acts narrates the growth and spread of the church, starting from just after Jesus' ascension. In this lecture we will explore this narrative, examine the historical accuracy of some of its accounts, and discuss Luke's perspective. x
  • 14
    Paul—The Man, the Mission, and the Modus Operandi
    Apart from Jesus, the most important figure in early Christianity was the apostle Paul. For various reasons, a clear picture of his life and teachings is elusive. Yet a careful reading of his letters and the book of Acts reveals significant information about the life and work of this highly religious Pharisaic Jew who became a Christian missionary, intent on spreading the Gospel among the Gentiles. x
  • 15
    Paul and the Crises of His Churches—First Corinthians
    Why can we take Paul's first letter to the Christians at Corinth as representative of all his writings? What are the problems besetting this community of believers? What is the Apostle's impassioned response? x
  • 16
    Pauline Ethics
    Paul's writings are pervaded by a concern for upright, moral living. He believes that even the Gentiles should strive to follow the ethical laws of the Jewish Scriptures, especially the command of Leviticus 19:18 that one should love one's neighbor as oneself. Given Paul's teaching that salvation cannot be gained through observance of God's law, does his ethical concern represent a paradox? Finally, is there a link between Paul's apocalyptic convictions and his teachings on ethics? x
  • 17
    Paul’s Letter to the Romans
    What is unique about the letter to the Romans? What are the two different models of salvation through Christ that Paul propounds here? And what part does God's revealed law, given to the Jews and preserved by them in the Hebrew Bible, play in God's ultimate plan of redemption? x
  • 18
    Paul, Jesus, and James
    In previous lectures we have examined the teachings of the historical Jesus and the theological views of the apostle Paul. In this lecture we will compare what we have found, adding the views of the apostle James to gain a rounded sense of the diversity of early Christian beliefs. x
  • 19
    The Deutero-Pauline Epistles
    This lecture considers some of the Deutero-Pauline epistles, so called because scholars accord them a secondary place within the Pauline corpus. Writing in someone else's name was a well-known practice in the ancient world, and could be a good strategy for getting one's work read. In this lecture, most of our attention will focus on Ephesians, which speaks eloquently of the unity of Jew and Gentile in Christ, but which does not appear to have come from Paul's pen. x
  • 20
    The Pastoral Epistles
    What makes the letters 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus pastoral epistles? Why are scholars convinced that Paul himself could not have written them? x
  • 21
    The Book of Hebrews and the Rise of Christian Anti-Semitism
    Did you know that the so-called epistle to the Hebrews is neither an epistle nor addressed to the Hebrews? To whom is it addressed, then, and for what purpose? Why does it teach what it does about the superiority of Christianity to Judaism, and why did the early Christians include it in the canon? x
  • 22
    First Peter and the Persecution of the Early Christians
    This lecture briefly discusses 1 Peter and its teachings on suffering for the faith. Then it explores more broadly the issue of persecution in early Christianity. What was the status of Christianity under the Roman empire? Why were there outbreaks of persecution against Christians, and how systematic were the abuses inflicted on followers of Christ? x
  • 23
    The Book of Revelation
    The Revelation of John is probably the most fascinating book in the New Testament, and almost certainly the most widely misunderstood. This lecture explores apocalyptic writing as a symbol-rich literary form, and argues that this particular Christian apocalypse is best read within its own historical context of religious persecution under the Roman Empire. x
  • 24
    Do We Have the Original New Testament?
    No original manuscript of any book in the New Testament appears to have survived. There are thousands of handwritten copies in Greek, but most date from centuries after the originals, no two match completely, and all are filled with mistakes. x

Lecture Titles

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Bart D. Ehrman
Ph.D., M.Div. Bart D. Ehrman
The University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

Dr. Bart D. Ehrman is the James A. Gray Distinguished Professor at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He completed his undergraduate work at Wheaton College and earned his M.Div. and Ph.D. from Princeton Theological Seminary.

Professor Ehrman has written or edited 27 books, including four best sellers on The New York Times list: Misquoting Jesus: The Story behind Who Changed the Bible and Why; God’s Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question—Why We Suffer; Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (and Why We Don’t Know about Them);and Forged: Writing in the Name of God—Why the Bible’s Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are. Professor Ehrman also served as president of the Society of Biblical Literature, Southeastern Region; book review editor of the Journal of Biblical Literature; editor of the Scholars’ Press monograph series The New Testament in the Greek Fathers;and coeditor-in-chief for the journal Vigiliae Christianae.

Professor Ehrman received the John William Pope Center Spirit of Inquiry Award, the UNC Students’ Undergraduate Teaching Award, the Phillip and Ruth Hettleman Prize for Artistic and Scholarly Achievement by Young Faculty, and the Bowman and Gordon Gray Professorship (awarded for excellence in undergraduate teaching).

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Reviews

Rated 3.8 out of 5 by 132 reviewers.
Rated 5 out of 5 by Excellent Course I am a long-time customer of The Teaching Company. I used to gauge courses based on customer reviews so I avoided Professor Ehrman’s courses due to the massive number of negative reviews. I was so wrong. The New Testament and other courses taught by Dr. Ehrman turned out to be some of the best courses within The Teaching Company. I completed all of Dr. Ehrman’s courses (except for one). This is my third time completing this course. If you like detective work then this is the course. The clues are in front of you. You even have four accounts of, what should be, the same story. It is also a course where one could exercise their own critical-thinking skills. I carried out one of his assignments as he instructed to his students back on campus. I copied a King James Version Bible from Gutenberg website into a word document and split the New Testament in a table with four columns. I lined up each matching story (which took a long time) and, for the first time, without changing text, read the gospels horizontally. What an educational project! I highlighted text that were duplicate between gospels. There are innumerable phrases, sentences and paragraphs written identically word-for-word (and I mean whole paragraphs). There were even sentences written identically in structure but with one or two words changed (or even exchanged between gospels). The stories that diverge were even more interesting. At first I thought … even the men who created this cannot decide what their prophets said. However, after viewing the DVDs and following Dr. Ehrman’s quotes in the New Testament I thought different. If variances are due to negligent error then mistakes would be random in pattern. But if all of the dissimilarities are pointing to or supporting a particular view then this is not inattention. You have to read the gospels vertically and horizontally. Why would the story of carrying the cross change from Simon from Cyrene to Jesus? Why would the crucifixion shift from after to before the Passover? If you knew the historical context of the time, the chronology of the writings, the differing beliefs from the sects, the gospels that did not make the canon, and the construction of Christian ideology then these changes would all make sense. I would not have seen this if read these Gospels separately. For me, evidence is the pathway to truth. The biggest irony here is that the evidence is buried where no one would least expect to look – inside one’s own bible. Quoting Voltaire, “People receive religion and laws in the same way they receive coins; without examining them.” Thank you Dr. Ehrman for a most enlightening course. May 21, 2014
Rated 5 out of 5 by Superb Historical approach to the New Testament I had three specific goals when undertaking this course: 1. To understand the way an historian approaches the study of the new testament - in this regard this is truly an outstanding overview of the subject 2. To gain deeper insight into the new testament - whilst this was not the main focus of the course i did learn more about some of the elements of the Gospels and especially about some the books less well known to me such as the Book of the Hebrews 3. Strenghten my Faith - i went in eyes wide open on this but just to be exposed to some of the beautiful parables and parcels of wisdom contained in the New Testament was wonderful. Now please be aware that Professor Ehrman makes it very clear that the course is really focused on point 1 above. It is about how historians study the NewTestmament and this includes testing and challenging the evidence- as determined by the man made critiera of modern historiography-for claims within the new testament and indeed about its provenance. The Professor on several occasions when presenting the evidence for a claim (or lack thereof), from an historians perspective, makes it clear that he foes not thereby say that such and such a claim is thereby false. I think he shows courtesy and sobreity in making this point and as someone who believes in God i was not offended by his comments or his approach. It is a fascinating and enjoyable course and the second from this Professor and i will in time seek out addiitonal courses from him. November 6, 2012
Rated 5 out of 5 by A Great Introduction and A Lot of Fun I enjoyed this course thoroughly. As many others have speculated, Dr. Ehrman is an agnostic (or at least so he said on the Colbert Report). For this course, he seemed to stay basically neutral and provide an introduction to the New Testament. His approach certainly worked for me as I was happy with the amount of knowledge I acquired from this course (I certainly don't expect to become a New Testament scholar from a 12-hour course -- no matter how many times I listen to it). For those who want more than an introduction to this material, I would suggest getting a couple of Prof. Ehrman's courses as well as a couple of Prof. Johnson's courses. After all, an education is about learning the material from several perspectives. The "fun" of this course came because several of us (including a part-time pastor) listened to this at the office. All of us learned a lot. At the end, we prepared a "quiz" and took it. Whoopie! Thank you for this Great Course. April 7, 2012
Rated 5 out of 5 by Mind-Opening Discussion of the Bible I own over 40 TC courses and this is one of my favorites. I'd always found the bible to be boring and opaque. Not anymore! Bart Erhman makes the whole text come alive. I now better understand what was written and why. This course unpacks the New Testament. It explains what it meant to the people who wrote and read it 2000 years ago. He also contrasts it with our present day interpretations. He actually got me going to church again! Ehrman's lecture style is amazing. He speaks clearly and concisely. He begins each lecture with questions and puzzles, which he then goes on to answer. He discusses alternative views, and carefully weighs the evidence between different theories and explanations. In doing so, he creates an ongoing sense of creative tension in the lecture that is almost like a good intellectual drama or mystery show. I highly recommend his other lectures! March 7, 2009
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