The Happy Coincidence Between Biblical Studies and Religious Convictions

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by Neil Godfrey

It’s simply downright embarrassing, but here is a video of a biblical scholar making as explicit as he can that his scholarly research directly serves the interests of what he considers to be correct theological beliefs. Michael Bird wrote a book arguing against the view that the earliest Christians (none of them) believed Jesus was a mere mortal who had been adopted by God as his son either at the resurrection or at his baptism. He was asked by the interviewer what relevance his work had for people today. His reply was, in effect, that it knocked on the head various contemporary ideas that Jesus was akin to the “American” myth of the “local boy made good”, that Jesus attained his status through good works and that we, likewise, can attain heavenly rewards or salvation through works.

Larry Hurtado, another scholar, happens to have written along similar lines that happily demonstrate that scholarly research proves the orthodox teachings of the church after all.

Bart Ehrman, on the other hand, cynical agnostic that he is, argues for a more “evolutionary” development of Christ-worship. He was recognised initially as a man but from there the story grew with the telling and singing of praises.

Wouldn’t a more objective answer to the question of relevance be something like:

Each scholar interprets the evidence in a way to make sense of his personal religious (or non-religious) perspective?

Sure, no doubt many students who enter biblical studies find their orthodox ideas challenged, but it is also evident that the academic guild has many comfortable niches for them, anywhere from the liberal and mystical for the Crossans, Borgs and Spongs, to the heel-digging conservatives and apologists, to the secularist agnostics (or even atheist) such as the Ehrmans or Crossleys.

And let’s not even broach the question of the way publishers seduce such scholars so eager for the sake of their own profile to be exploited by their publishers in their pursuit of their own bottom line ….

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Neil Godfrey

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5 thoughts on “The Happy Coincidence Between Biblical Studies and Religious Convictions”

  1. I wonder if Bird’s ‘high Christology’ is, ironically, more support for initial belief in a celestial Christ who was later humanised as Jesus Christ. There is no information that support Ehrman’s or anyone else’s assertion/s there had been an early first century man-Jesus who was a deity or later deified.

    1. This makes most sense and the arguments I have read by Larry Hurtado to that same point look strong to me compared with their alternatives. Of course, Larry Hurtado reads the primary documents naively through Christian interpretations and not critically as per standard historical methods (I have shown elsewhere from his discussions how he confuses utterly raw data and interpretation) — hence he accepts paraphrases of the gospel and Acts narrative to explain Christian origins. A more critical reading of the sources leads to the Christ Myth solution, in my opinion.

      1. When you say, Neil –

        ” the arguments I have ready by Larry Hurtado to that same point look strong to me compared with their alternatives.”

        Do you mean arguments of Hurtado’s that you have read? (or have ready?)

        You have another recent post about his view – http://vridar.org/2017/07/20/our-knowledge-of-early-christianity-sifting-interpretation-from-the-raw-data/#more-71235 – and take him to task well, in my opinion.

        But if he is “accepts paraphrases of the gospel and Acts narrative to explain Christian origins,” then is he ‘trying to have his cake and eat it too’?

        1. Thanks for alerting me to the typo.

          Hurtado’s analysis of the evidence for earliest Christians having a “high christology” is fine; but that’s a different inquiry into accounting for how the earliest Christians emerged and it’s with respect to that latter question that Hurtado demonstrates naivety.

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