Professor of Early Christianity - ask me (almost) anything!

What did early church services look like? Was the Eucharist the focus, was preaching/teaching the focus? We know the Eucharist has always been important, but there are times where it is said St. Paul went on and on.

There’s no such thing as a ‘neutral’ view of history (the best one can do is attempt to make clear what the multiple perspectives on it are, and what the evidence is for each perspective), and from a read of his threads, while @billsherman does offer plenty of content in his answers that seems fine (sort of generic, ‘there’s not really a clear consensus on this’ type answers), he also frequently makes certain absolutist claims as if there’s one single, ‘neutral’ view, in short soundbite fashion, without offering any academic citation or resource for it.

I’m not disputing that he is a history professor: I take him at his word. At the same time, I work at a university, in the social sciences, and I know that university professors aren’t immune to bad practice (and that the longer a person is in a profession, the more their humility can be clouded over by arrogance that they really ‘know’ the answers; they get over-confident in their own opinions (since they consider them so well-formed by evidence over time) that they start presenting their opinions as facts without needing to cite evidence anymore, and eventually their biases creep back into the language they use and the way they present things, whether in large or small ways). And I’ve seen how dramatically the private beliefs of an individual professor can skew the way they answer questions (and how the subtlest language choices they make can influence what the audience assumes and takes away from the lesson).

And it’s always a warning sign when they combine the following three features:

  1. Refusing to disclose their own POV, even when asked, in the hopes that the audience will assume they’re just telling you the ‘neutral facts’;
  2. Giving short and absolute black/white answers to questions, without acknowledging or addressing whether there is a difference of opinion among professionals in the field (e.g. he answers the question: “So what historical evidence is there for the claim the Gospels were originally anonymous?” With the complete nonsense ‘answer’: “The fact that all the manuscripts are anonymous.” PS for an example of a Catholic response to this “anonymous manuscripts” concept, see for example: https://www.catholic.com/magazine/online-edition/did-matthew-mark-luke-and-john-really-write-the-gospels);
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  1. Addressing topics that do actually have implications for (what the OP calls) “faith communities”, while subtly using language (e.g. “religious ideology”, “doctrine factory”) that suggests a certain bias against religiously practicing historians who have presumably come to different conclusions than the OP has. Sure, there’s room for nuance here (it’s absolutely true that a person’s starting beliefs, including religious doctrine, can wrongfully skew their interpretation of data, if they allow it to)… but it’s equally true that an atheist can fall into the same trap, and skew their interpretation of data based on factors such as (e.g.) a categorical disbelief in the metaphysical possibility of miracles. Either way, it is helpful for the reader to know exactly where the author is coming from, so we can ‘correct’ for the potential biases of the author when we examine their conclusions and how they explain they got there. It’s important to know if a researcher comes from one of these so-called “doctrine factories”… of either the denominational or anti-theistic type.

Again, I’m not going to go through point by point to try to assess where the OP seems to be speaking ‘reasonably’ vs ‘not reasonably’ to me. But I stand by my point that it is inherently suspicious for any individual to approach a religious group and claim to be a ‘neutral’ authority qualified to explain their own history to them, then give ‘answers’ without accompanying citations/evidence, and refuse point-blank to disclose even the general category of what his own beliefs or biases may be. At my university (in the social sciences, anyway) that is basically a forbidden practice. You must disclose your potential biases, so your readers can factor your potential human limitations into their understanding of the work you produce.

(To be clear, I am not for a moment arguing that the OP should disclose his name or specific institution. That is absolutely a matter he should keep private and not disclose online. But his beliefs (in general) should not be off-limits to ask about, since he has approached a specifically religious online forum to influence the beliefs that members of this religion have, about their own history. The beliefs of the OP are not a matter of ‘privacy’ in this context; his identity is still anonymous, and disclosing his beliefs will simply help us contextualize what he shares, without having any impact whatsoever on his real life person.)

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This is an anonymous comments thread on the internet. This is not a university. I am not personally acquainted with any academic in this field, at a single college or university, anywhere in the world. If I have questions that arise from my reading, I can only be deeply grateful to any academic who kindly offers to provide his services free of charge, here at CAF. For me, it’s that or nothing.

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You make some good points but this isn’t a classroom or college thesis where people should acknowledge their biases and background. If anything on a forum like this someone claiming to be a scholar is putting oneself at a disadvantage because people like to test if that person is real or a fraud. While I was typing BartholomewB posted pretty much what I was trying to say.

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I 100% agree with this, in theory. I think it’d be great if the OP continues to provide his ‘historian’ services here, free of charge. That’s why I’m not saying: “Get thee off this platform, Mystery Man!” but rather: “Pray, Mystery Man; could you please identify your potential biases so we may have a fuller understanding of the information you are trying to convey?”

Again, all I’m saying is that we should all, always, be suspicious of any mystery ‘teacher’ who shows up and tries to recruit strangers to be his ‘students’, especially on the topic of religiously-relevant facts, without disclosing to us key details about himself that enable us to see his potential biases and avoid falling with him into any mistakes (if in any area he is a blind man walking into a hole, and we, following the blind man, fall in too). At that point, it’s questionable whether he’s providing more harm than service.

This isn’t about arbitrary university requirements; I don’t care about his grammar or formatting. This is about the reason the university requires bias-disclosure.

We are all called to be on guard against wolves in sheep’s clothing; against false teachers. People who come to you claiming to teach you neutral history (that may subtly affect your religious beliefs) are not exempt from the possibility of falling into this camp.

I’ll leave it here for now. I think I’ve said my piece. Into God’s hands I commend this thread and everyone posting in it or reading it.

None of the manuscripts were anonymous. In fact, there are no New Testament manuscripts in existence that are without attribution. The fragments of manuscripts might not contain attribution, but that is hardly the same as concluding the full manuscript didn’t have attribution.

Feel free to name a manuscript or provide a direct link to one that lacks an attribution or is anonymous.

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It seems to be pretty widely accepted by scholars that the direct personal and individual authorship of some NT books is unknown, but that is not the same thing as “anonymous”.
To say that John came out of the Johanine community without John wielding the pen is not the same thing as a completely unknown source or “anonymity”.
So I’m not exactly sure what is meant by “anonymous”. If he means we don’t know with certainty if The John wrote such and such specifically, he’s correct. There are those mysteries of attribution.

Full disclosure: I’m a layman who’s pastor is a scripture scholar and former seminary instructor. :slightly_smiling_face:

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:sunglasses: :+1: as you can see I agree with your analysis

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But if you are asking a question it’s because you want a truthful answer, and in science knowing the possible biases of the answers helps greatly in searching that truth, no matter if it is in a forum, a university or any other place.

As we are discussing sciences, it’s a matter of epistemology, not of how universities work.

I suppose the question then becomes whether we ought to trust modern scholars regarding “direct personal and individual authorship” or scholars from the second and third centuries who had some direct personal connections with the authors, regarding who it was who “wielded the pen” that wrote each Gospel. :wink:

So we have…

Papias of Hierapolis (writing ~120 to 130 AD) who lived in Asia Minor and personally was a disciple of John, the Apostle, and who wrote:

Matthew composed the sayings in the Hebrew dialect and each person interpreted them as best he could.

And the elder [John] used to say this: “Mark, having become Peter’s interpreter, wrote down accurately everything he remembered, though not in order, of the things either said or done by Christ. For he neither heard the Lord nor followed him, but afterward, as I said, followed Peter, who adapted his teachings as needed but had not intention of giving an ordered account of the Lord’s sayings. Consequently Mark did nothing wrong in writing down some things as he remembered them, for he made it his one concern not to omit anything that he heard or make any false statement in them.”

Justin Martyr (writing ~140-165 AD) who lived in Palestine and was an early pagan convert to Christianity, and who wrote:

For in the Memoirs of the apostles and their successors it is written…

We are told that he [Christ] changed the name of one of the apostles to Peter, and it is written in his memoirs that this took place…”

Irenaeus of Lyon (writing ~150 to 200) who lived in Lyon in Gaul, but was a disciple of Polycarp, a direct disciple of John.

Now Matthew published among the Hebrews a written gospel also in their own tongue while Peter and Paul were preaching in Rome and founding the church.

After their [Peter and Paul’s] departure, Mark also, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, himself handed down to us in writing the things which were preached by Peter…

Luke also, who was a follower of Paul, put down in a book the gospel which was preached by him.

Then [after the publication of Matthew, Mark, and Luke] John, the disciple of the Lord, who had even rested on his breast, himself also gave forth the Gospel, while he was living at Ephesus in Asia.

Continued…

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Clement of Alexandria (writing ~ 170-200) who lived in Egypt and personally knew elders who were direct disciples of the Apostles

Of all those who had been with the Lord only Matthew and John left us their recollections, and tradition says they took to writing perforce. Matthew had first preached to the Hebrews, and when he was on the point of going to others he transmitted in writing in his native language the Gospel according to himself, and thus supplied by writing the lack of his own presence to those from whom he was sent…”

But a great light of godliness shone upon the minds of Peter’s listeners that they were not satisfied with a single hearing or with the oral teaching of the divine proclamation. So, with all kinds of exhortations, they begged Mark (whose gospel is extant), since he was Peter’s follower, to leave behind a written record of the teaching given to them verbally, and did not quit until they had persuaded the man, and thus they became the immediate cause of the scripture called “The Gospel according to Mark.” And they say that the apostle, aware of what had occurred because the Spirit had revealed it to him, was pleased with their zeal and sanctioned the writing for study in the churches.

Of all those who had been with the Lord only Matthew and John left us their recollections (hypomnēmata), and tradition says that they took to writing perforce… John, it is said, used all the time a message which was not written down, and at last took to writing for the following cause. The three gospels which had been written down before were distributed to all including himself; it is said he welcomed them and testified to their truth but said that there was only lacking to the narrative the account of what was done by Christ at first and at the beginning of the preaching… They say accordingly that John was asked to relate in his own gospel the period passed over in silence by the former evangelists (tōn proterōn euangelistōn)…

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I trust living scripture scholars to have the best information.
They have the advantage of all that you just posted plus all the discoveries in centuries since.

You don’t need to prove this particular authorship issue to me. I don’t have a dog in the fight.
I was just trying to understand and maybe clarify the anonymity issue. I’m not debating with you specific cases.

Fair enough.

I was merely demonstrating that the case for the anonymity of the Gospel writers is very far from having been made, despite what modern scholars “widely accept.”

Unfortunately, what is often presented is not the actual case from both sides, but mere allusion to scholarly opinion as if that in itself is sufficient to make the case.

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[quote=“goout, post:123, topic:590490”]
I trust living scripture scholars to have the best information.
They have the advantage of all that you just posted plus all the discoveries in centuries sinc
[/quote]

That’s a point, but consider what knowledge the ancient authors had: vast libraries of early writings that have now vanished, and the sort of knowledge that only comes from living through the era, such as familiarity with slang or current arguments.

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I did not insinuate the OP is a fraud. I am uneasy that
the OP is not comfortable sharing his religion.
Is he Jewish or Buddhist or Baptist or SDA or Jehovah’s Witness?

I am not questioning if the OP is really a professor of
early Christianity.

Goodness, everything on this forum turns controversial so quickly!

If you are still answering questions @billsherman,

Are there any history books on Early Christianity that you consider to be, for the most part, reliable? History is a subject that has always interested me, but I never know which history books are considered to be quality.

Thanks for taking the time to answer!

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