New Testament

Course No. 656
Professor Bart D. Ehrman, Ph.D., M.Div.
The University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
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Course No. 656
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What Will You Learn?

  • numbers Look at the historical background of early Christian and Greco-Roman society to gain deeper insights into the Gospels.
  • numbers Study each of the four Gospels in depth, and explore non-canonical Gospels, including the Gnostic" Gospel of Thomas."
  • numbers Dive into the history and influence of one of the most important biblical characters outside of Jesus: the apostle Paul.
  • numbers Understand the use of symbols and historical context in the apocalyptic writings of the Book of Revelation.

Course Overview

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.
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24 lectures
 |  Average 30 minutes each
  • 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

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  • 168-page printed course guidebook
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What Does The Course Guidebook Include?

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Course Guidebook Details:
  • 168-page course synopsis
  • Portraits & illustrations
  • Suggested readings
  • Questions to consider

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Your professor

Bart D. Ehrman

About Your Professor

Bart D. Ehrman, Ph.D., M.Div.
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...
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Reviews

New Testament is rated 3.8 out of 5 by 292.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Respectful, Clear, Informative Presentations Prof. Ehrman is an excellent speaker who takes great care to be respectful to the audience, believers and non-believers. Whether you agree with his views or not, they are based on evidence and presented logically and rigorously. Everyone can learn from such a presentation. In particular, Ehrman does an excellent job comparing the gospels as literary works and explaining the writings of Paul. I am personally less convinced by some of the arguments about the historicity of particular gospel sayings, but they are presented fairly and clearly and reflect much current scholarship. The general discussion of Jesus as an apocalyptic prophet is thoroughly convincing and extremely clearly explained, however. This course is neatly complimented by Luke Timothy Johnson's course on the gospels, which takes a very different perspective but is also worth watching.
Date published: 2020-10-03
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Course Theme: Do Not Trust the New Testament Ehrman describes the New Testament as being composed of unreliable and inconsistent fables. Most people want both sides of a matter presented, and there could be more than two sides. This class offers an extremely one-sided review of the authorship and writing of the New Testament. Justifications of the New Testament's accuracy are notably omitted. Ehrman works at destroying faith in the credibility of the Bible. Numerous scholars disagree with his views. Better Great Courses are: Phillip Cary, History of Christian Theology; and, Craig Koester, Reading Biblical Literature.
Date published: 2020-08-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from One of the better courses I have taken on The Grea I've completed the course, and it was full of enlightening information on the New Testament, keeping in mind it is a survey course. Dr. Ehrman is certainly one of the foremost experts in the field. I would recommend having a copy of The New Oxford Annotated Bible on hand as a reference. Unfortunately, the format of the Great Courses doesn't allow Dr. Ehrman to have a live audience, because if you've ever watched any of his on line debates or lectures, you would be able to more fully appreciate his oratory skills, than what the Great Courses format allows. I also find the "stage sets" of the Great Courses dreadfully artificial, cheap looking, and painfully dull, why not just have a university classroom setting? It would be more honest. That being noted; I still highly recommend the course.
Date published: 2020-08-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A spectacular take on the New Testament After reading the Bible from Genesis through Revelation, I began watching Teaching Company courses to help me understand what I'd just read. After watching two courses on the Old Testament, I embarked on my journey through the New Testament. Bart D. Ehrman is a first-rate scholar and a close analytical reader of the 27 books which comprise the New Testament. Contrary to what some negative reviewers have written, I believe this course will not dissuade religious viewers from their faith. Ehrman deepens one's knowledge of the texts through his scientific, analytic, and scholarly approach. I'm still processing the information he provided so I won't go into detailed descriptions of his lectures but I will say Ehrman did a good job of differentiating the apocalyptic views held by Jesus and those held by Paul. Their outlooks on the end times were not precisely the same. Ehrman's final lecture focused on the question: Do we really have the actual New Testament? He detailed the history of the surviving manuscripts and explained how copies differ from one another. I watched this course after watching "Understanding the New Testament" by David Brakke. Brakke's course is newer and may contain developments in New Testament scholarship that have transpired since Ehrman recorded his course but I noticed more congruence than divergence between the two courses. I recommend taking BOTH courses for maximum enlightenment as each of these professors focused on different aspects of the texts.
Date published: 2020-05-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from This was a most fascinating look at the New Testament. The professor was exceptionally well prepared and knowledegeable. I will take other courses by this instructor.
Date published: 2020-05-12
Rated 4 out of 5 by from To Critique Christianity This is a very good course for those interested in a historical critique of Christianity. It is one of Dr. Ehrman’s better courses for The Great Courses. However, it is of little to no use for those seeking to understand what Christianity itself believes. Dr. Ehrman analyzes the New Testament as historiography. This is a legitimate line of inquiry; it is like analyzing On the Origin of Species as theology. Dr. Ehrman finds that the New Testament has defects as an historical record. (I suppose that On the Origin of the Species might have defects as a theological treatise as well.) Dr. Ehrman is a well-known evangelical-turned-critic. He communicates clearly with many relevant illustrations. The student must be a little wary, though, as Dr. Ehrman speaks with great certitude and he sometimes outright ignores conflicting opinions even of other critical scholars. I used both the video and the audio version; the video adds nothing. (For those who try the video version, try this experiment: Play the video for several minutes without any sound. Does Dr. Ehrman’s presentation style remind you of a late-night televangelist?)
Date published: 2020-04-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Course I looked forward everyday to a different lecture and learning more about the New Testament. The professor was very engaging, knowledgeable and presented the material in a very clear,concise way. The material was very rich and increased my understanding of the Bible.
Date published: 2020-02-12
Rated 4 out of 5 by from I found this course very interesting. Most important is the fact that I learned a great deal. I happy I took the course.
Date published: 2020-01-11
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