The accompanying notes to first first lecture include: ‘The New Testament is undoubtedly the single most important book in the history of Western civilisation, whether seen as a religious book of faith or as a cultural artefact. It is probably also the most widely disputed and misunderstood.’ We agree with both observations. The Bible is the root of our culture, it provides a sense of hope, it is often invoked and misquoted to support both sides of the same argument! In this course, Ehrman has chosen to study the Bible from the perspective of its Historical context ie what was it’s meaning to people of the time of the original writings?
Knowledge of some of the basic facts about the NT is very low amongst today’s young people. Which books should be included in the Canon which forms the NT, were in much dispute in the 2nd, 3rd and 4th centuries. The present 27 books we have today was first included in a letter written by Athanasius bishop of Alexandria in 367CE. There are other writings that we not included eg Gospels of Thomas and Peter. The criteria for inclusion in the Canon were, written by the Apostles or someone close, written as close to the time of Jesus as possible, widely read and the writings included teaching that was widely accepted ie orthodox.