The book “A Brief Introduction to the New Testament” by Ehrman explains that the Christian canon was a result of many Christian debates on the correct teachings (6). These debates came about because there were many other writings by early Christians.
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For instance, there was a group of non-canonical writings called the Apostolic Fathers, which was as authoritative as the canon itself.
I see the debates about the Christian canon as a confirmation that early Christians held different views. Therefore, books of the New Testament express diverse views as these early Christians wrote them.
The views that early Christians expressed in the canon related to their encounters during those times. That is why Ehrman, in his book, uses a historical approach to explain the New Testament as well as other early Christian works. As such, the New Testament is not just a book for Christians.
Rather, it is a cultural relic and an anthology of early writings that has played a significant role in Western civilization. Therefore, I advice present-day Christians not to follow the New Testament blindly.
Rather, they should interpret the contents of the New Testament in reference to historical contexts, or the circumstances that existed during the writing of the book.
As Ehrman explains, the context of the New Testament was the Greco-Roman world (17). Religious beliefs and practices of the Greco-Romans did not fully agree with contemporary ideas of Christianity.
For instance, most Greco-Roman religions lacked structured groups that managed worship and creedal declarations that affirmed the belief of followers. Unlike modern Christianity, most Greco-Roman religions emphasized on animal sacrifices and other actions that delighted the gods.
The Greco-Roman religions did not emphasize on morality or life after death. The religions only focused on daily survival and protection of the empire, as there was no clear division between the church and the state.
One example of the Greco-Roman religion was Judaism, which was the religion pursued by Joseph and other Jews. The Jews recognized presence of divine people who had a special relationship with God and could do miracles.
Therefore, account s of Jesus healing the sick and calming the storm were logical to the Jews. Judaism also recognized that there existed some great men and semi gods, who connected men and gods.
Therefore, the Jews, who followed Judaism, did not find it hard to understand the birth of Jesus, who would unite them with god.
I think that explaining the birth of Jesus and that He is the son of God to some non-believers in the present world is quite hard considering that the idea of semi gods is nonexistence in the society today. Thus, as we interpret the New Testament, we should always refer to its context.
I also think that even as we interpret the New Testament in its context, we should also remember the basic aim of early writings that later formed the New Testament was to spread the message that Jesus was the son of God and his death brought salvation to the earth.
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As Ehrman explains, those who authored the New Testament did not have personal encounters with Jesus (45). Rather, they used oral traditions from earlier generations to create stories about Jesus.
Obviously, some stories faced distortion, while others were original. Although some stories were personal creations, Ehrman informs as that all early Christian stories sought to convince new converts that Jesus was truly the son of God, and that the source of salvation (63).
This means that Christians have a right to interpret the bible in whichever way they wish, as long as their interpretations support that Jesus is truly the son of God, and the only source of salvation.
Ehrman explains the synoptic problem as the problems that arise because the first three books of the New Testament (Mathew, Luke and Mark) share some stories while others differ (59).
He argues that some stories in these three books agree word by word and therefore, there is a possibility that these books originated from the same source.
He also suggests that it is essential to explain for the differences in the documents and attempts to do so using the “Four Source Hypothesis” (Ehrman 60). According to this hypothesis, the three Gospels came from four different sources including “Mark, Q, M and L” (Ehrman 60).
Mark was the earliest book and Mathew and Luke borrowed Christian material from Mark. Luke and Mathew also used Q as a common source of literature. Therefore, according to the hypothesis, Mark and Q explain the similarity found in the Gospels.
On the other hand, M and L explain the differences found in the two Gospels. Luke used his own material labeled “L” to develop his literature, while Mathew used his personal material labeled “M”.
Despite all these explanations, there is no one of them that fully accounts for the similarities and differences in the Gospels, from my perspective. However, I do not imply that these explanations are of no significance.
The hypothesis shows that both oral and written traditions played a central role in formulating the Gospels. We must acknowledge this fact before evaluating other aspects of the hypothesis. Mark and Luke might have used both oral and written traditions to develop their pieces.
However, I feel that the hypothesis left out that these authors had different levels of creativity and this contributed to formulation of different scriptures.
The way an author organizes material, stresses certain aspects, explain issues using sayings and add interpretive comments may affect the entire meaning of a written piece.
The synoptic problem enables us to perceive the three authors of the New Testament as independent theologians who did not experience traditional influence, but who took time to interpret and organize material that became the New Testament.
These authors took time to think about what they heard and they made comments about the same. Thus, they were not passive authors, but active authors who tried to align Gospel tradition with particular contexts and audience.
The synoptic problem makes us to perceive the Gospels as living traditions and proofs of God’s work in the world that He gave unto us through God’s inspirations. Differences in the Gospels resemble the present-day Church.
Although churches bear witness to the same God, different churches have different practices because of life’s diversity. For instance, churches differ in the way they practice baptism. While some churches baptize children, others recommend baptism for adults only.
The three Gospels represent unity in diversity and encourage us to consider the New Testament in its own diversity, as well as from our own culture and diversity.
Ehrman, Bart D. A Brief Introduction to the New Testament, New York: Oxford University Press, 2010. Print.