To fundamentalist Christians and many traditional Catholics, the very idea of preaching from a book titled A New New Testament is outright heresy. But that is starting to happen on the fringes of liberal Protestantism.
Until now, ancient non-canonical texts like the mystical Gospel of Thomas, discovered in a cave in Egypt in 1945, or the women-empowering Acts of Paul and Thecla, condemned by church fathers in the late second century, were kept cloistered in the libraries of Bible scholars and other scriptural sleuths.
That has changed with the publication of this expanded edition of the Christian Bible, which was put together by a self-appointed council of nineteen scholars and spiritual leaders.
What I love about this book is how it is written for a general audience and designed to be used in a setting of prayerful contemplation and public worship.
It directly addresses the popular misconception that the New Testament was written, selected, and collected soon after the death of Jesus—and that it somehow has God’s stamp of approval.
Most scholars believe that the earliest books in the New Testament were written twenty to thirty years after the crucifixion, and others at least 140 years after the time of Jesus. And it was a few centuries until church leaders began to agree what should be in “the Bible” and what should be left out.
The New New Testament was edited with a commentary by Hal Taussig, the co-pastor of the Chestnut Hill United Church in Philadelphia, part of the liberal Protestant United Church of Christ denomination. Taussig is also a professor of biblical literature at Union Theological Seminary in New York. He presents a clear and compelling argument against the idea that the books and letters that got included in the traditional collection were “in some way more true, more divinely inspired or more historically accurate.”
Taussig’s Bible includes thirty-seven works of scripture from the early centuries of Christianity, including ten you will not find in the King James or Revised Standard Version of the Christian Bible. It was published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Coyly interspersed amongst the familiar Gospel of Matthew and Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians is the Gospel of Mary (Magdalene), which was most likely written by followers of Mary sometime between 80 and 180 CE, about the same time that fans of Matthew composed a story in his name.
The Gospel of Mary provides no evidence to support the speculation in Dan Brown’s best-selling novel, The DaVinci Code, and elsewhere, that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were lovers. As the introduction to this text notes, “Mary’s authority stems from both her closeness to Jesus and the fact that Jesus told her things that he told no one else. There is no suggestion in the story of physical or sexual intimacy between them.”
Mary’s gospel ends with the Apostle Peter almost laughing at the idea that Jesus would “really speak with a woman without our knowing about it?
“Are we to turn around and all listen to her?,” Peter asks.
In the end, we know who wins this argument. Nearly 2,000 years later, the Roman Catholic Church still forbids women from serving as priests, and many conservative evangelicals seize on a few lines that did make it into the Bible about women keeping quiet in church and remaining submissive to their husbands.
This book, however, is no diatribe against the evil patriarchy.
A New New Testament, subtitled, A Bible for the Twenty-First Century, goes out of its way to be respectful toward practicing Christians.
Its guide on “How to Read a New New Testament” suggests that we read scripture personally, thoughtfully, imaginatively, meditatively, and prayerfully.
That’s good advice no matter what version of the Bible you choose to read.