on 23 January 2013
I wish I this book had been available many many years ago. Biblical research in our lifetime has become a meticulous science. This book by Marcus Borg offers any reader an intelligent introduction to the New Testament and to those who read it from a present-day Christian perspective it will deepen their confidence and faith.
Marcus Borg’s “Evolution of the Word” is the complete NRSV version of the New Testament, set out in the order the ‘books’ were written, with a concise introduction to each. It enables us to begin to see how the first three generations of disciple-communities developed their understanding of who Jesus is. Subsequent generations, right up to the present day, have each projected their own agenda and interpretation: As many have said “we look down a well two thousand years deep and in the bottom see our own reflection.” Marcus Borg has set out the findings of the most recent research which is often sadly dismissed by many fundamentalist evangelicals. There is nothing to fear in using common sense and academic rigor in approaching these first century texts. Having read his “Meeting Jesus in Mark” (2011) I knew “Evolution of the Word” would be an invaluable scholarly resource to trust.
Borg writes (page 424): “The rule I have sought to follow… is to reflect consensus conclusion when possible and, when there is no consensus, to follow majority opinion.” In dating each manuscript he has some surprises especially putting Luke-Acts after John’s Gospel. Time and again he points out that the later the document the more often one finds that the disciple communities have conceded their stance to the prevailing standards in society. “Some of the later documents in the New Testament reflect a domestication of the radicalism of Jesus…” A glaring example is the question of the Christian treatment of slaves:
In the very first document to be written, Paul’s letter to the Galatians, we read, from 3:26-28:
“In Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith… There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”
By the time the letter to the Ephesians came to be written “a generation or so after Paul’s death” (Borg p 351) we read: “Slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling.” (6:5) This is “part of the process of late first-century Christian accommodation to the hierarchical values of the Roman world.” For centuries Christian states preferred to quote Ephesians rather than the much earlier letter to the Galatians or Paul’s letter to Philemon when he set out to persuade Philemon to free his slave Onesimus.
The contradictions and changes found in the New Testament documents rather alarm many Christians who hold firmly to the words in 2 Timothy 3:16: “all scripture is inspired by God.” It is obvious that the Bible may be inspired but it is not infallible. Borg writes (p576) “…the Bible as the inerrant Word of God is the foundation of fundamentalism and most of conservative-evangelical Protestantism. For these Protestants, the Bible as the inspired and therefore inerrant and infallible Word of God defines who they are.”
Borg makes it clear that his book “presents a literary chronology – a panoramic view of how the ideas and stories of the New Testament changed over time.” (p2) Each document comes from a writer belonging to one of the many early Christian communities. The texts “are not the source of early Christianity, but its product.” The documents were not written for us, but addressed the needs and concerns of quite small groups of Jesus-disciples 2000 years ago. What was written may have meaning for us, but some of the text may be of no interest to us at all when it includes personal notes individuals. Some of the letters were general; to be read to communities in a region and not to a specific person or group.
Borg attributes seven letters to Paul himself (no surprise there) and explains and dates many of the other letters which earlier tradition (or the text itself taken at face value) say were written by him. So “The Second Letter of Paul to the Thessalonians” he describes as “a ‘slight’ letter – a minor one that would not be missed if it were not included. But it is a window into a Pauline community around the year 100.” (p548)
The first disciple-communities were often likely to be little more than house groups, but by the time the first ‘pastoral’ letter, 1 Timothy, was written, the text speaks of pastors, deacons, elders and even bishops. The communities are rapidly moving towards becoming the institutional church. In chapter 3 we read of the qualifications needed to be a bishop. It speaks of a bishop being “married only once” (3.2) “keeping his children submissive and respectful”.
Bishop Peter Price (Bath and Wells Diocese) wrote a report for the Archbishop’s Council in 2006 entitled “Resourcing Mission for the 21st Century Church”. In this he stated “In the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Church has all the resources it needs to conduct its mission task” If this is so, and I think it is, then we have to root our Christian faith today in the historical events of two thousand years ago. Reading Marcus Borg’s “Evolving the Word”’s introduction to each Gospel and each letter helps us make the leaps necessary to make sense of the documents as they were written long ago, but also suggests how we might decide for ourselves what the Gospel has to say to us today.
I recommend this New Testament with Marcus Borg's concise introductions, without any reservation. Brilliant scholarship.
on 18 November 2013
Marcus Borg is one of the great New Testament scholars alive today. In THE EVOLUTION OF THE WORD, he puts the Books and Letters of the New Testament into the order in which they were written rather than the current New Testament order. He also gives each of them an introduction and a date of composition.which is followed by the New Testament text using the New Revised Standard translation. It is obvious, for some this will be for the first time, that the writings of St. Paul predate everything else. Several of the so-called Pauline Letters such as Ephesians and Colossians, 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus cannot possibly have come from Paul's pen [or dictation] as he had been executed long before they were written. Mark is the first Gospel written followed by Mathew, John and finally Luke and The Acts of the Apostles. The other New Testament Letters are interspersed among them ending with 2 Peter well into the Second Century of the Common Era. This is a challenging book that sets the record straight. As Evangelical Lutheran Bishop Lowell Erdahl says in his Foreword: "I think every pastor, seminary professor, and seminary student should have a copy of this chronological New Testament...It will change the way we see the emergence and development of earliest Christianity. It will be an adventure of exploration and discovery." I couldn't agree more.
on 27 August 2013
For the novice Bible student like me, putting the contents of the Bible into chronological order, and explaining why, is a revelation in itself, but there is much else provided by Marcus Borg that clarifies and provides historical context, and a 'fresh take' on familiar verses and the less familiar passages of scripture.
on 28 June 2014
I have read this immediately after Borg's Reading the Bible Again for the First Time.
We all assume that Matthew's Gospel came first and Revelation came last, because that is how the New Testament is presented. But this is the wrong way to do it. In fact the early letters of Paul came first. The gospels came much later.
Borg introduces us to each book in the order in which it was written. He gives us a brief but fascinating introduction to the book and then we have the book itself. So we are left with a New Testament which can be read as it evolved. This gives a completely new and fresh insight to the entire testament.
This should be an essential resource for anyone who wants to gain a true understanding of the bible.