July 5, 2009

About This Blog

This research blog is about improving our view of the New Testament Story in its full historical context. Faith based NT Chronology really should be able to settle on much greater precision in dating the key events. I strongly believe there IS one, most likely, most plausible reconstruction for the timeline of the New Testament and scholars who accept the NT cannon as reliable testimony should be able to agree on this new Chronology with minimal reservations.

Such an accomplishment wouldn't necessarily have served the position of denominational theologians or ecclesiastical authorities in centuries past, but the past hundred years has engendered a more eccumenical approach. Today, it seems conservative New Testament scholarship is transitioning from the entrenched positions of the old guard to a more open minded and faith based rationalism. More and more, Christian scholars of all denominations are searching together for the best answers to good questions - not just their bishops' pet answers.

Verifiable history will always trump theology, but Chronology gives reconstruction a full fourth dimension. Journalists know the Who, What, When & Where of a story is infinitely more discernable in most cases than the Why. To put that another way: Character, Plot, Conflict and Setting are the concrete aspects of any dramatic non-fiction, but Theme is always a bit subjective. Solid literary analysis should always focus on those concrete aspects, the first four W's, before ever declaring itself on the deeper interpretations, but faith based Biblical Studies has not necessarily followed this pattern as thoroughly as it could have. (At least, not from what I can tell.)

This blog exists to proclaim that "backgrounds" and "culture" are not enough context for our sacred texts. We need to reconstruct the events. Classical scholars are staunch critics of Tacitus, Suetonius, Dio et al, but they work as a whole towards reconstructing what actually happened in as much detail as possible. Christian scholars haven't been interested in doing that with the events of scripture, practically ever - not in a thorough way, strictly for events' sake.

The context of a text cannot merely be more text. The context of a text is the author's entire life, plus the lives of those touched by whatever events the text relates and refers to. We need to reconstruct the Historical Events of the New Testament as more than a sketchy mish-mosh, and we need to give it more than piecemeal lip service before launching into theology and homeletics by isolating epistles. We need ONE, most likely, leading, cohesive, comprehensive, exhaustive chronology of the entire New Testament. So why don't we have it?

The first European missionaries to the Americas wrestled with the concept of 'invincible ignorance' - withholding the gospel so natives might not be held accountable by God for their sins. But ecclesiastical authorities have treated the Lord's flock in a similar way. For centuries, Church leaders have covered over a multitude of specific doubts by projecting a strong general doubt about all historical approach to the details of scripture. The punchline to that sick joke was the 20th century gnosticism of Bultmann. But saints, if Christ be not raised physically, we have no hope whatsoever.

We may or may not need to defend the resurrection, but we definitely need to believe it. We may or may not solve the Synoptic Problem, but we should do our best to spell out how, when and where the Christ of our Faith walked around in the Historical Palestine. We cannot put together all the details with one hundred percent certainty, but we CAN put together a plausible reconstruction, based on a minimal number of conditional assumptions. Since Faith is most effective as the foundation of Reason, the end of our christian historical arguments should be reconstructing the Facts - not defending what we already believe.

Classical Scholars do not know for certain who ordered the death of Augustus' last grandson, Agrippa, in 14 AD. It was either Caesar, his wife or Tiberius. We have all three scenarios and many opinions on which is most likely, but that is enough. We do not avoid reconstructing their general histories because of a few specific doubts.

We have more than enough information about the details of scripture to make a reliable, faith based reconstruction on the historical lives of Jesus, Peter and Paul. But we must overcome our own ecclesiastical history if we ever want to know the Historical Context of the New Testament's Events. I humbly suggest we must also focus primarily, for a time, on the Chronology.

So that's what this Site is About. Please argue vigorously with any point above you feel needs to be challenged. And please come back to this site as I do my part to help work out these issues in greater detail.

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