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Logos Live: Craig Evans

Logos Live Image - Dr. Craig Evans and Tavis Bohlinger - February 2023 - 1200x630

What you’ll see in this Logos Live episode

Dr. Tavis Bohlinger interviews Bible scholar, professor, and award-winning author Dr. Craig Evans about his life and writings.

Craig A. Evans (PhD, Claremont) is an internationally known and respected New Testament scholar, apologist, and author who serves as the John Bisagno Distinguished Professor of Christian Origins at Houston Baptist University. He has written extensively on the historical Jesus and the Jewish background of the New Testament era. A prolific writer, Evans has published more than 70 books and over 500 journal articles and reviews. His books have been translated into several languages.

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Books & courses by Craig Evans

Mobile Ed: AR151 Archaeology in Action: Jesus and Archaeology (3 hour course)

Mobile Ed: AR151 Archaeology in Action: Jesus and Archaeology (3 hour course)

Regular price: $109.99

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Dictionary of New Testament Background (IVP Bible Dictionary)

Dictionary of New Testament Background (IVP Bible Dictionary)

Regular price: $39.99

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Ancient Texts for New Testament Studies: A Guide to the Background Literature

Ancient Texts for New Testament Studies: A Guide to the Background Literature

Regular price: $41.99

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Fabricating Jesus: How Modern Scholars Distort the Gospels

Fabricating Jesus: How Modern Scholars Distort the Gospels

Regular price: $14.99

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Mark 8:27–16:20 (Word Biblical Commentary, Volume 34b | WBC)

Mark 8:27–16:20 (Word Biblical Commentary, Volume 34b | WBC)

Regular price: $43.99

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Holman QuickSource Guide to the Dead Sea Scrolls

Holman QuickSource Guide to the Dead Sea Scrolls

Regular price: $9.99

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Early Christian Literature and Intertextuality: Volume 1: Thematic Studies

Early Christian Literature and Intertextuality: Volume 1: Thematic Studies

Regular price: $29.99

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Searching the Scriptures: Studies in Context and Intertextuality

Searching the Scriptures: Studies in Context and Intertextuality

Regular price: $29.99

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Interview transcript

This transcript has been lightly edited for readability.

Tavis Bohlinger (00:00:22):
Hello everyone, and welcome again to another episode of Logos Live. I am your host, Tavis Bohlinger. I’m very pleased to have with me the distinguished professor Craig Evans at Houston Baptist University. Craig and I are gonna have an extended conversation just about his interest in Jesus studies, New Testament, Christian origins, and some other things that he may have interest in as well, such as whiskey. But, one of the main reasons for this conversation is that Dr. Evans is our author of the month at Logos Bible Software, and we highly encourage you to go check out his many books that are on sale right now, his mobile ed courses and many, many more. And I’d like to highlight, especially Dr. Evans, your new book, on grace, a set of devotions, which is something we can get to here in a minute. But yep, there we go. There we go. There’s actually a question I want to open with that I think I hope will set the tone for everything we’re gonna talk about, and that is this, after many decades now of being known publicly as a Jesus scholar and a scholar of Christian origins, we could say that too, but, but you are a Jesus scholar. How, how has your relationship to Jesus changed from when you started this journey? How many years has it been?

Craig Evans (00:02:06):
Yeah, that’s right. I began graduate studies, PhD studies in 1977. So, what’s that? 45, 46 years. Ok. It’s hard to believe. Yeah. Hard to believe. But, in terms of my faith, it’s greatly deepened. I understand. I mean, there’s obviously a whole lot of things I don’t know. Who knows God that well, you know, but I have a great sense of appreciation for, and a deeper understanding of God and, and the, the beauty of the world, God as creator, and God who is faithful. And I, I hope I’ve moved beyond this plastic, whatever it is, this phony health/wealth gospel understanding of theology, which I think afflicts Christianity by and large. And it’s not a denominational thing, it’s interdenominational. So it’s a shallow understanding of God, who, you know, if you’re not healthy, wealthy, whatever, you’ve been let down. Mm. So your faith is wrecked, it’s damaged.

You’re not sure God cares anymore. Yeah. And so, as I have studied Scripture in general, I appreciate the depth, the wisdom, the beauty, the huge rich meaning. And that doesn’t mean I’ve exhausted it. That doesn’t mean there are no lingering questions. Of course there are. And as God himself reveals the secret things belong to the Lord. So we’ll never exhaust God’s own, you know, reality, who he is, that’s impossible. So that transfers over into my study of Jesus as well. I understand the gospels considerably better than I did 40 years ago. And again, the simple, simplistic, rigid ideas about the Gospels, about history, about how the Gospel writers composed their, you know, made use of sources and compose the text, what history really is the pedagogy, how Jesus taught, how he expected his own disciples to teach, to adapt, to paraphrase his own words.

And so this has given me a sense, a much greater sense of, I’m more relaxed around, you might say, the critical questions. And so it’s not a blind faith–far from it. It’s an informed faith that is—I can accept the wrinkles and the unanswered questions very much, and I don’t mind them at all. There are some unresolved questions involving chronology or location or meaning, of course. And, and so on. So I would say 40 plus years of scholarly study, or 45 years of scholarly study, has led to an enrichment of faith, a deeper understanding of God, a greater awareness of the ambiguities of Scripture. And at the same time a greater sense of peace, with faith and with the ambiguities where I’m not too concerned about him. I’m not saying I’m apathetic far from it or nonchalant, that’s not what I’m saying.

But I’m not troubled by the uncertainties and the questions. I find that I relish the opportunity to go deeper and to pursue them further. And I’m revising my commentary on Mark, which I do believe Logos makes available: the Word Biblical Commentary series. So, you know, eventually you’ll have my new version. Hopefully in a few months I’ll be finished. It’ll be off to the publisher. And, I’m just once again reminded of how rich the material is, how insightful Jesus’s teaching is. So it’s just wonderful. So I consider myself greatly privileged. It’s a responsibility, but it’s a wonderful opportunity. [I’m] privileged that this is where my calling has taken me, and this is what I get to do for a living.

Tavis Bohlinger (00:06:36):
Yeah. So that’s kind of a good segue into my next question. You get to do this for a living, and you’ve done it for quite some time, and not just as a scholar tucked away in a university office or lecture hall, but you’ve been, you’ve had quite a public career as well, which we’ll touch on in a minute. But none of us listening right now, including myself, who have spent time in academia, none of us have, have or probably will spend the amount of time that you have in the text, in the research. And, and those of us who know them, the, the famous green and black covers of the, the WBC commentaries, you know, they become like treasured friends up on your bookshelf, because you know, the rigor that’s gone into them in the textual study, but also the theological reflections. What, so here’s my question then is how would you encourage those of us who are still wrestling with the ambiguities and, and, kind of trying to address the critical questions without having half a century nearly of study under our belts? How, what can we do if we don’t have the time to read all the books and to spend our days as you do?

Craig Evans (00:08:09):
Yeah. Yeah. I know. I have to give that advice from time to time. I’m in a church. My wife and I have many friends, I have students. Not all of the students are majoring in theology or Bible. Not all of them are gonna go into ministry. And so that question comes up, you know, I can’t become a full-time Bible scholar for the next half century, so what do I do? And so I will recommend books that are fairly well written. I think there are commentary series that are at different levels. And if you really are serious, you’re willing to read Scripture and read a commentary alongside it to understand what it means. And of course, that’s, anybody can do that. You don’t have to be a Greek scholar or a Hebrew scholar. And we’re so fortunate in English, we have so many references, so many tools available compared to any other language in the world.

And so if you’re serious, you can get an introduction. There’s several that are out there. You can get a set of commentaries or a single volume commentary. And so you can read up on, you know, a given passage. You can ask yourself, okay, who’s speaking here? Oh, it’s Jesus. Okay, the occasion. Someone’s asking a question, what’s this about? And a commentary will give you information about the meaning of what’s being talked about, the background. Maybe it comes out of the Old Testament. How was it understood in Jesus’s time? Was it controversial? If so, how? And so the commentary can speak to a lot of very important questions. And we’re not talking about taking days or weeks through study of passage. You read the passage and read a couple of, all of that’s less than an hour, and you could come away with a much deeper, better understanding of it.

And I would encourage people who teach adult classes, youth classes in a church setting to do that, to go beyond a little handbook, whatever provided, and look it up in a good commentary and read it. And there are some really good ones. A Word Biblical Commentary might be a little too technical for people who don’t know biblical languages. But there are other commentary series, and most of them, I’m sure, are available as part of Faithlife’s Logos Bible Software package. A real good way to do it. You can look up a message in question and click on some things. And bingo, you’ve got some good commentary right there to look at. So there really is no excuse for those of us who speak English, no excuse to miss out on what a text means. And it’s not that hard, and it doesn’t take that long.

Tavis Bohlinger (00:11:14):
Yeah. And we can also listen to you in English. I know you’ve done quite a lot. I would say you probably have done more than maybe any other scholar, at least that I know of publicly, films, and TV appearances and radio, our Mobile Ed courses that we filmed here, at the Bellingham location in Washington. So, but what I’m curious to know is, as a scholar, do you find that your work that you’ve done with live action video or radio appearances, or answering even some tough questions from maybe secular interviewers, have those informed your scholarship? Or is it your scholarship that has more informed those episodes? Or has there been a mutually beneficial relationship between the public and private scholar side of your work?

Craig Evans (00:12:11):
Yeah, it’s the latter option. What I like about public media, and I’ve done, as you said, I’ve probably done a hundred documentaries and news programs. And one of the benefits of it is when somebody on television, like I really enjoyed working with Stone Phillips, when he hosted Dateline NBC, he was personally a seeker. So that was interesting. So he wasn’t just being a journalist who’s saying, “okay, this is the topic we’re gonna talk about.” He was personally invested, when the cameras were not rolling, he would ask me questions about faith and resurrection. It was delightful talking with him.

When someone in media asks a question, that’s usually a very well researched question, because they have yes, staff, they do surveys, they read tea leaves, I usually don’t. I mean, I’ve got my head and my books and I’m doing my whatever it is I’m supposed to do. And so when his class raises his or her hand and asks me a question, I, I might think, I never would’ve thought to ask that question. Or somebody like Stone, for one of a number of other people in media, they ask a question that tells me, oh, okay, this is where people itch. And it’s nice to know that. And so it does direct me a little bit. I need to make this clear. I’m speaking to a women’s Bible study next week right here in the Houston area. I think there are 300 women that attend this regularly, every week.

And so I’ve received some feedback from them, like, people don’t even know what the Dead Sea Scrolls are, they don’t know why in the world they have any relevance for Jesus. You know, it’s good to hear these. Okay, now I know how to pitch my presentation. I know what level I should be aiming at. So whether it’s the classroom, maybe it’s the media, whatever, it’s a way of getting me out, as it were, back into the street and hearing what people are thinking and the questions they’re asking. So it’s a two-way street that’s very informative. And I have written, you know, you know, this little popular book that came out just a few months ago, which you people published it, that’s where it started. It was just like, you know, I don’t think people understand grace very well, so I thought, well, and I gave some talks on it. Next thing you know, I’m writing a small book on what grace is and how it reveals much about God. And so that’s where a lot of these things come from. I have another little book with a different publisher, that, you know, God, you know, God speaks what he says, what he means. That’s pretty basic. And I’ve had people respond, wow. You know, there’s all kinds of stuff in that book I didn’t know. So that’s good. That’s what’s important for us. I gave an ATS lecture. ATS means the Association of Theological Schools. And I was on the board a few years back and I gave to grant recipients a talk on why we need to get out of the ivory tower. We might have a PhD and be real smart. And Dan Brown writes his books [to be] read by millions, and we write books read by dozens. And so we need to get out of the ivory tower once in a while and speak to the popular audience. It’s the same idea, because someone else will. So it’s a two-way street. It’s very informative.

Tavis Bohlinger (00:16:25):
Let’s talk about your new book a bit. So what is it that we, I say we as the church and of course thereby the, the the outside world or the secular of the world. What is it that we don’t understand about grace? And I have a suspicion, this links back to your earlier comment about a shallow understanding of Jesus.

Craig Evans (00:16:50):
Yeah. I think what happens is when we talk about theology, we think, oh, this is all about God. When we talk about grace, it’s, this is all about God. And we think of Ephesians 2:8 and 9, “For by grace you’ve been saved through faith … ” And so that’s what grace is. It’s all about God saving us and we don’t deserve it. But God is gracious and he forgives us. And one of the reasons I wrote the book, this little book, What Grace Is was to talk about the horizontal, you might say, of grace. Sure. You know, vertically, God is gracious toward us. But the great commandment, which Jesus himself cites, which another teacher cites to him in conversation. So this is a tradition that occurs a few gospels, is love God with all your heart and all you are, which is a way of summarizing it or paraphrasing it and love your neighbors yourself.

And I think what gets lost is the second command we’re focused on. Oh yes, I love God. He’s been gracious to us, but horizontal part. And so I thought, why not have a book that 90% of it is about the horizontal dimension of grace. Grace that’s extended one to another, which is really acting out the command. Love your neighbors yourself. So that was the motivation behind the book. There’s plenty of good material written on God’s grace, the grace he has shown us not that much material on the grace we as human beings should extend to one another. So I thought that should be the focus of the book. And I’m happy to say the editors at Lexham Press agreed. And, I have to hand it to them. They made a beautiful— I just sent them this little manuscript and they made a beautiful book out of it and made some great suggestions about the titles of each, study questions at the end of each chapter.

So this little book could be used as a teaching book in a Sunday school class. From high school on up, you know, and so it’s a handy little book. It’s not very long. Easily cover it in a single semester. So that’s what I wanna do is explore. And I, and I found it very enriching because there’s a lot of, I was exploring, there was stuff in there I didn’t know before I hadn’t thought about before … And so, I little narratives, how many people when they think of grace, think of Esau forgiving Jacob, his twin brother who cheated. Yeah. You know what I mean? Yeah. How many people think of that? And and of course you really see great God’s grace at work, the vertical grace, but also the horizontal grace.

When you study the life of Jacob, the great patriarch, the grandson of Abraham, who becomes his name has changed to Israel, man, this important person in the patriarchal narratives. And he is a major screw up. And yet in the end, the grace of God extended to him becomes a grace that’s seen horizontally and he becomes a great person and truly worthy of being guarded as a patriarch. And then just head on over into the New Testament in the parables of grace that we see, especially in Luke, where we have the parable of the Good Samaritan, for example, or the parable of, of the prodigal son. Both parables are not well understood by Christians. So that’s what this book really talks about. So we’re going from the patriarchs and genesis to some of the classic parables, in Luke. And I think, I hope the book is successful and lots of people read it and are blessed by it, and not just, oh, I have a new idea now, or a new understanding. But it’s transformative and the way they live and the way they engage other people will be changed.

Tavis Bohlinger (00:21:04):
Now is there a precedent for what you’re doing here in early Christianity? Were they looking to these ancient stories, these Old Testament narratives and relating it to their experience of God’s grace, like within the early church? Maybe they had examples within the Jewish community as well?

Craig Evans (00:21:32):
I think so. And I think we’re the ones that have turned it all into a vertical thing where theology is all about God and all about heaven. And someday we’ll be there. Hmm. We need to get our feet back down on the earth. Now, by the way, in some parts of the world today were struggles just to exist where it’s persecuted and so on. I think they get it. Yeah. Because they’re living in a world that’s not much different from the first century when the church got underway. So in a way, yeah, our own prosperity, our own security, has a numbing effect and, and makes us less aware, you might say, of gospel realities or biblical realities or the, or the worldview where all people of faith at one time lived. And so yeah, that’s why, well, that’s why there’s such a down to earth-ness of Jesus’s parables who proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers. Well, Jesus doesn’t get into some deep theological thing. He talks about three guys that walked down the road and this third one that stopped and helped the guy. This is pretty, you know, down to earth. And there’s no deep theology there in a sense. And yeah. And of course, you know, you know, that makes sense. This is why I want to talk about it. Many people don’t realize that the parable itself is taken right out of Old Testament narrative. It’s taken right out of 2 Chronicles 28:8–15. That’s why the teacher who has asked Jesus, ‘well, okay, who’s my neighbor that I’m supposed to love like myself?’ when Jesus in the way tells the parable, it’s a Samaritan. That guy can’t say, ‘oh, come on Jesus. No Samaritan would ever do that.’ He can’t say that because he knows the Old Testament stories.

And he knows Jesus has alluded to the story of the good Samaritans, plural, who did just that, bound up the wounded, Judeans clothed them, put them on donkeys, took them to Jericho. And so Jesus is cribbing on an Old Testament story to make his point. It’s like he’s saying to the man, go back and read the Old Testament again. And that’s exactly what he asked him when he said, what must I do to be saved to inherit eternal life? And he says, well, what’s, what’s, what’s in the Bible? You know, what does Scripture say? How do you read it? And he’s reminded him how to read it. And you know, he’s won that man over. His answer is beautiful when he says, when Jesus says, which one showed, proved to be the neighbor to the man who was wounded. He said, the one who showed mercy.

And in this little book I talk about how significant that is because his answer is alluding to a passage in the Pentateuch where Moses teaches the people to show no mercy to the foreigners who are going to lead you a way to idolatry. And the rabbis later applied that I think very unfairly to Samaritans. And when that man, he basically deconstructed a bad exegesis, he agreed with Jesus. I think he was brought on board. And I think the same thing happens in the parable of the prodigal son. When those guys standing there hear how that concludes, that parable where the father says to the angry, resentful, older son who surely stands for those scribes and Pharisees standing in the doorway griping about Jesus, spending time with sinners. When he says, all that is mine is yours, you’ll forever be with me. I wonder how many of them thought, wow, this is the grace being extended to us. We need to extend it to these people that right now we’re criticizing there. There’s something about those Lukan parables, and these are all, these are unique to Luke. You know, the parable, the prodigal son, the parable of Good Samaritan are only in Luke, not in Matthew, not in Mark, not in John.

And so I think Luke really picked up on what this horizontal grace is. I think he really gets it. And the parable of the prodigal son, some think actually that’s alluding to some of that Jacob/Esau story that I was talking about earlier. So this is beautiful stuff. And that’s why I thought, okay, let, we’ve had plenty of books and plenty of learned articles about God’s grace toward an unmerited favor, you know, and so on. That’s good. Let’s talk about the horizontal grace that maybe isn’t as well understood, and it that will impact how we live. We’ll end up doing what James too says we should do when we see someone who’s in need or whatever. And that’s to go beyond platitudes but to take real action, which is what these people in these parables have done.

Tavis Bohlinger (00:26:27):
Yeah. So that brings up two questions for me related to church history, both, kind of in the past, but also I guess you could call it present church history. So there is somewhat of an anxiety these days about, well, what you’re calling horizontal grace or what we might call in the old word “charity.” And we know the church in the past, we have many examples, did a great job of this with error, but they attempted it on, on quite a, quite a scale, creating hospitals and orphanages and feedings and, you know, the old word “alms.” Today it feels like we face a bit of an anxiety, at least in the West, about drifting into so-called social justice or, you know, certain agendas that we fear may be at odds with the gospel, and yet the intent behind them may be something quite good, helping those in need, addressing social wrongs, whatever it might be. Where do you, where do you think your book might be able to impact the church in this whole kind of tension that the church is facing right now?

Craig Evans (00:27:55):
Yeah, you raise a good question and it’s been just, you alluded to it, you know, the social gospel versus the gospel and it can quickly turn into polarity either/or. And some denominations, some seminaries, perhaps abandoning months of theology and confession with respect to Jesus’s divine nature, his death on the cross atonement, you know, vital points of theology that the church confesses from the get-go solves, if not abandoning them all together. And then substituting, you might say the, the social works go the gospel of society or whatever. And, and of course that’s moving in the wrong direction. And then evangelicals more conservative, more traditional people theologically reacting to that thinking that social gospel is bad. What? And of course it’s not. And so soup kitchens, charity, orphanages, schools for poor kids, hospitals, I mean, a lot of these are all Christian innovations down through the centuries.

Many of them have been taken over now by secular governments and so forth, but these were Christian innovations that we’re trying to put into practice. The very thing we’re talking about, the horizontal grace. You may be poor and who knows why you’re poor. Maybe you were immoral, maybe you were this and that and the other thing. But you know what, you’re still made in the image of God and we’re still gonna extend grace to you. Yeah. And so what we don’t wanna do wildly to one side or the other. And so what I try to do in my book is note that the horizontal grace is rooted in good theology. It’s rooted in the example of the patriarchs. It’s rooted in the teaching of Jesus. And the only reason grace horizontally extended makes any sense is because of the vertical grace we love.

Because we’ve—“he first loved us,” to borrow from John. And so, that’s what I’m trying to do is stitch the two together. They really do belong together. And that’s exactly what James is saying, James chap, you believe God is one. There’s, that’s, that’s the vertical, that’s that first commandment, you know, to love God with all you are and all you have. And God is one that’s the very beginning of the Shk, Deuteronomy six verse four and five. And then he wants to talk about the horizontal love—loving your neighbors yourself. And so he spends all of his time there. He says, oh yeah, you believe God is one good for you. Even the demons believe that and it scares them doesn’t seem to scare you very much though, because you neglect loving your neighbors yourself. That is, a question. And so the two go together.

If we’re just doing a horizontal thing and that, and without any reference to why we do it or it’s being driven by God and his love for us, then it becomes almost like, secular charity or just the usual kind of thing governments do to curry votes. But we do it not to curry votes, but because it’s what God wants us to do. And it’s because we’re also agreeing with God that human beings are made in the image of God. Hmm. And therefore, loving human beings is really an extension of loving God since human beings are made in God’s image. So what I’m trying to do in my little book, What Grace Is, is to tie the two together. So yes, there is theology of course, and, and abandoning theology or cutting or chopping off pieces of it that just takes you into secularism and apostasy. But to embrace theology, belief in God, belief in his redemptive purposes does not then make abilities and concerns on the horizontal level on. So they both go together.

Tavis Bohlinger (00:32:28):
Yeah. You know, this is so good. It just reminds me of, so I studied under John Barclay a few years ago and, and he had, he was working on Paul and the Gift, which talks about the reciprocity aspect of grace. And you know, he and I in conversation would talk about how that book Paul and the Gift is dealing with also that horizontal aspect, you know, our reciprocal response to divine mercy. But he is now and has been working on the horizontal aspect. It’s really refreshing to see that. Have you, have you talked at all with John about this?

Craig Evans (00:33:08):
I know John, but no, we haven’t really had any conversations. However, I do have a couple of colleagues here at Houston Christian University who not only know him personally [but are] very much into his book and engaging it. There are a couple of Pauline scholars. So I say, good for you.

This might sound smug, but one of the things I do, I say, hey listen, you know, I’m not a Paul guy. I just help you solve your— so if you don’t know what works of the law means, that’s fine. I can explain it to you. Oh, are you still struggling with how Paul and James connect without canceling each other up? That’s okay. I can help you with that. You don’t know what hell is? Gehenna? I can help you with that. So what I do is just solve problems like a mechanic and say, oh, the car’s fixed. Now you can drive it. So I help out my Paul buddies, as best I can, but otherwise I spend all my time doing Jesus and the Gospels.

Tavis Bohlinger (00:34:16):
Well, if you’re doing it from the Jesus side and John’s doing it from the Paul side, I think we’ll get someone else in for the Catholic epistles. But yeah. we’re almost there.

Craig Evans (00:34:28):
Yeah, that’s right.

Tavis Bohlinger (00:34:29):
So let me ask you, how did you get into, let’s call it public scholarship or public engagement? I mean, was it your handsome appearance? Was it your radio voice? Was it, where did this kind of, where did this begin? Because it doesn’t, it doesn’t happen for the majority of scholars. I mean, I guess people more are doing independent public engagement through Twitter and Facebook and starting podcasts, but you know, that’s more recent. So how did you get your start?

Craig Evans (00:35:05):
That’s a good question. I sometimes put it this way. When I was an undergraduate in university, I went to my counselor and I asked her, Hey, how do I get into a famous television media person? And she goes, oh, that’s easy. Get a PhD in biblical studies. It’s a joke. Of course, of course.

Tavis Bohlinger (00:35:28):

Craig Evans (00:35:29):
What happened, I think what happened was I just fell into two areas that took off when I went to Claremont, I did my PhD in Southern California, and it just happened to be at its very best in terms of biblical studies faculty, James Sanders Sanders from Union had just John Trevor had just relocated. Bill Brownley was there, James M. Robinson was there. Burton Mack was there. And this was not the Burton who later who goes over the deep end and becomes agnostic. This is a different guy.

So I was in a powerhouse. I decided I’d always been interested in the Dead Sea Scrolls so I thought I’m gonna study Dead Sea Scrolls with Jim Sanders and Bill Brown. That’s what I did. However, I’m also interested in the historical Jesus. So I did work for a time with James Robinson, well, Jim Sanders up to speed on Targums, early rabbinic literature. And I had a tremendous education. And so when I finished my PhD and started teaching on Jesus’s understanding of Isaiah, you know, the use of the Old Testament in the Isaiah, the Deads Sea Scrolls, well, back in the 1980s, the young assistant professor beginning in 1980 and then went to Trinity Western and British Columbia in 1981, everybody was screaming about all the unpublished Dead Sea Scrolls. Herschel Shank published, you know, the rest of these fragments in K4, all that was being talked about.

And what happened when 1990 rolled around here was this work, scroll work, I’m second generation scrolls because you know, first generation is John Trevor and Bill Brownley. That’s about, that’s ground zero for Dead Sea Scrolls work. And so it all exploded. The Qumran Spring in 1990, all the images were now available, they were being right and left. And I was positioned to jump all over that. And so you know, there I was, I was like, oh, well I know this stuff. And so I was publishing on scrolls that had not been published before, talking about, like 4Q5 21, the Messianic relevance for Jesus, and the 4Q2 46, the, you know, the Aramaic text that talks about the one who will be called Great Son of God, Son of the Most High. So I was in a position in the early nineties to really do something, and then I launched the Dead Sea Scrolls Institute at Trinity and brought, and this is in the mid nineties, brought in Peter Flint and Marty Abegg.

And we just exploded. We just took off. And the media got interested it to say all wanted, Hey, what’s going on with scrolls and Jesus? And so I think it was because my expertise was in those two areas. Jesus, Jesus and the Gospels and the Dead Sea Scrolls. And, and so I just got a lot of attention then who said obviously came into place, nice looking guy. Well, well spoken. You know, the camera loves me. So next thing you know, I’m making documentaries with Hercules, Kevin Sorbo, and, you know, stuff like that. And of course I made documentaries with you guys, you know, Reuben Evans when he was there, no relation. Yeah. But you know, when he was with you and we made some great documentaries. Yeah. So I don’t know, it just, maybe it was providential, you know, but I had expertise in this and they just happened to become very popular in the 1990s.

And of course, Jesus is the number one guy that everybody wants to talk about. I’m usually asked to talk about, you know, the Gospel of Judas thing with the National Geographic. Yeah, of course. There’s hoax, the fragment, the Gospel of Jesus’s wife, you know? Yep. I mean, that broke in September of 2012, a media person called me up, I looked at the picture that was a hoax. And they said, what do you think about that, Professor Evans? I said, this text is not as old as my grandson. Later, I thought, Ooh, that was kind of going out on a limb. Well, my grandson was born in 2004, and the text we think was 2006 or 2007. So I was right. Yeah. But anyway, you know, these things happen. I don’t know if that answers your question, but there it is.

Tavis Bohlinger (00:40:34):
Yeah, absolutely. Just, just the right time, you know, providential. What— Speaking of the Dead Sea Scrolls, and, I guess we could say archeology in general, there seems to be a sentiment that I’ve come across at times, even personally, amongst Christians that, oh, what do we need that for? You know, we’ve got the Bible and the Bible’s all you need. But you know, we’ve, we’ve invested a lot of time into you and your Mobile Ed course in archeology, and you’ve written a lot on and traveled a lot in the pursuit of what lies behind the text. Is that a, is that a right way of saying it, you think?

Craig Evans (00:41:23):

Tavis Bohlinger (00:41:25):
So why does it matter? Why does it matter to a Christian and not just a general secular interest in ancient things?

Craig Evans (00:41:35):
To some Christians, it doesn’t matter. You know, with Reuben, we did Fragments of Truth. We filmed it in 2017. The narration was done by that great British actor, John Rhys Davies, who was in Indiana Jones. He told Reuben later, he said, “That was the most interesting documentary I’ve ever narrated.” It aired in theaters in 2018. I have shown it myself on cruise ships in the Mediterranean, where not only our group, anybody, we have 500 people in the theater listening to that. I do Q&A afterwards. And I’ve done it in churches. And there’ll always be somebody who says, well, I trust the Bible. I don’t need this. Hmm. Well, you know, the saying, inquiring minds like to know, well, I got news for you. There are some minds out there that don’t inquire and don’t care.

But I think it, you know, it’s important that Christians and non-Christians alike be exposed to the evidence, to the history. And, I think it’s really silly for a church to be intellectually anemic. Pastors need to know this kind of stuff. I’m sorry. They don’t, they don’t have an option there. If you’re gonna be a pastor and lead a church, you need to know this stuff. If somebody says, why should I trust the Bible? I mean, I’ve heard that the manuscripts have all been tampered with or the Bible was changed. And the pastor needs to be able to say, just a minute. Hold on a second, and trot out the real facts, the real data. Same thing with the scrolls. And I’m giving this presentation on scrolls and Jesus at a, as I already mentioned, next week, right here in Houston, in Sugarland, there’ll be about 300 women there.

And already one or two said, well, who cares what, you know, who the scrolls aren’t in the Bible? You know, the scrolls, you know, blah, blah, blah. And people will say that about archeology. Well, there, there are minds, there are some minds out there that are not inquiring, they don’t ask questions. But I’d like to think, most people do have some curiosity and most people would like to know. And, because they might have an inquiring teenage grandson that says, grandma, why should I trust the Bible? I heard somebody in university say that the Bible’s just full of mistakes, or there is no historical support for it, whatever, or archeology has disproven it or something like that. And of course, that’s all false. You need to know your stuff. And, and so to find out that the Dead Sea Scrolls shed a lot of light on Jesus’ teaching, we simply understand it better.

Same time it actually offers some proof here or there for things that the New Testaments say Jesus actually said or taught. Archeology does the same thing most of the time. It simply fills in blank spaces, helps us understand the context better, but sometimes it hits the nail right on the head and proves something. So I think, you know, I’m an educator, that’s what I do. And so I will always defend acquisition of knowledge. I will always defend, you know, an inquiring mind is a good thing. And I think that there are people, whether they’re pastors or Sunday school teachers or teachers in schools, Christian or otherwise, they have an obligation to be informed and to be able to answer these questions. These are answerable questions in the answers are very much reassuring of faith if you’ve bothered to do the homework and get informed.

Tavis Bohlinger (00:45:29):
So for those that wanna do the homework, lemme tell you.

Craig Evans (00:45:31):
Go ahead. Your videos are excellent. Yeah. The Faithlife library, the Mobile Ed courses, not just the ones I’ve taught, but you’ve had tremendous scholars and communicators. Your Mobile Ed curriculum and inventory is fabulous. And your other documentaries people should be scooping up this stuff and, and using it in churches and in other settings. It’s a rich, rich resource. You need to talk about it more.

Tavis Bohlinger (00:45:58):
Yeah, absolutely. Thank you for, thank you, thank you for talking about it. Speaking of, kind of as we come to a close here, but speaking of Dead Sea Scrolls, your role as an educator and these questions that people listening or who will listen later, have where I want to ask you about your resources that you’ve written, in, in the terms of entry points into these larger questions and larger issues. So, and I’m just asking you to go off the top of your head here, but for someone listening who’s thinking, you know what, I don’t really know anything about the Dead Sea Scrolls, but I’d like to, where, where with your books should they start?

Craig Evans (00:46:46):
Well, I have a book, it’s been out twelve years. It’s called A Guide to the Dead Sea Scrolls. It’s published by B&H (Broadman and Holman), I think 2010 or 2011, something like that. And it comes with beautiful color photographs of scrolls of Qumran, the caves where they were found. And it’s still pretty up to date, even though I brought it out several years ago, I was aware of some of the allegations that some fragments might be modern fakes and that kind of thing. And, and what this book does, it’s a guide, it’s, it’s in a series called The Guides, but it’s the Guide to the Dead Sea Scrolls. It answers all these simple questions. What are the scrolls? When were they found? How many of them are there? How many of them are Bible scrolls? You know, a lot of people don’t even know the answer to that. 22% of them. . So over 200 scrolls or Bible–Genesis through Malachi, all but one biblical book represented among them, and commentaries on some of the Bible books, additional apocryphal texts and so on. So it’s all explained what the scrolls are, how old they are, how they’ve been studied, how we know they’re old, and how they’ve helped us understand the Bible better. Both Old Testament and New, the light, you know, and just about everything in the New Testament’s been helped by the Scrolls. So every single Gospel, all four of the Gospels, the book of Acts, the letters of Paul, Jesus himself as a historical figure and teacher, the book of Revelation, a lot of people don’t realize there’s, there are texts that are devoted to the new Jerusalem. And of course Revelation talks about a new Jerusalem. So, the Scrolls are hugely important rules about purity. You can understand why Jesus eating with sinners and tax collectors was controversial in some circles, or why Paul and Peter get into an argument on that very question in Galatians. Yeah. So the scrolls are of significant help and I explain it at a real entry level, you know, you don’t have to know anything. And that’s Guide to the Dead Sea Scrolls. I have other articles roles, but they tend to be more for scholars and grad students. But that sure is specifically aimed for the layman.

Tavis Bohlinger (00:49:15):
And, and you do have a Mobile Ed course with us on archeology, that would be a great place to start too.

Craig Evans (00:49:22):
Yeah. Yeah. What about those, the archeology ones? I think there are four of ’em that we did. It’s on archeology and or Jesus archeology. And they’re 22, 23 minutes each. man, I, they should be in Sunday school classes, show one for 22 minutes and then spend 22 minutes talking about that several weeks in a row. I think you’d have some really interesting, engaging conversations.

Tavis Bohlinger (00:49:47):
Yeah, absolutely. It’d be better than the video my daughter saw the other day at her Bible study, which was a talking piece of beef jerky. I, I don’t know what was going on there, but I think you might be a bit more interesting.

So what about Jesus? Where should they start if they want to? If, if someone is thinking, you know what? I’ve read my Bible every year. I know the Gospels in general, but they want to go deeper in their understanding of the real Jesus. Where sh— which one of your books would you point them to?

Craig Evans (00:50:23):
Well, I have a book Jesus in His World, and there’s a lot of archeology in it also. So you get a little, you get a, you’d get a dose of both. And it’s pitched at an intermediate level. So it’s not too, it’s not too dense. Jesus, the remains of his day that takes it up. The next level gets far more technical. But Jesus’ World, 2012 Westminster John Knox Press would help. I also have a general intro to just the Bible. It’s called God Speaks: What He Says, What He Means. Yeah. And, it came out in 2015 and I’ve been very happy with responses and reviews on that. It’s published by Worthy, Worthy Publishers. God Speaks: What He Says, What He Means, and what I like about this book, you know, it’s designed like, you know, you know the Bible pretty well and you know, blah, blah, blah, and this book low for you. But you have a friend, you have a relative, you have a neighbor who says, well, I don’t know anything about the Bible. And maybe I, I’m willing you can say, well, here you go. and, and I talk about science, the supposed clash between Bible and science. I talk about the Old Testament, what the Bible is and who Jesus is, what he taught and that sort of thing. So God Speaks as a pretty easy book for entry level on not just Jesus, but the whole Bible.

Tavis Bohlinger (00:51:53):
This, it seems like the work that you’ve done, I know I’m going back to this for the second time, but it feels like the work you’ve done is or can be, should be a cure for the shallow Jesus that is so promoted in churches these days. And I say that from experience. We just moved recently and we’ve been visiting tons of churches all across the spectrum. And, I feel there’s just a kind of cloudy blurb understanding of Jesus. There’s, it’s not really filled out, not only from the horizontal theological side of things, but I think a lot of what your work has done in, in that horizontal, like who was Jesus and what really were the conditions of his life and what was the world like at that time where he was living. So I hope that would be the case. I hope, I hope that’s where your work could address some of that shallow hope. What about, what about the church itself?

Craig Evans (00:53:03):
Well, I mean, that’s the problem.

Tavis Bohlinger (00:53:04):
So I’ll, yeah, I was gonna say all of your work in Christian Origins, right? And you’ve done some work on the early church, yeah. Quite a bit including the Cannon, which is interesting. So not just the people or the corporate body of believers met together, but the text that they were reading. it just seems like you’ve got a lot to offer. How do we encourage people, in your opinion, to do more good reading about the faith they profess to deepen that? Yeah.

Craig Evans (00:53:44):
I know, I think a lot of it has to come from the pulpit. I think a lot of it has to come from, and, I really enjoy, like we do, we do have a doctorate of ministry degree here at Houston University. Used to be Houston Baptist University, Houston Christian University. And that’s one of my favorite courses is to talk about current issues in biblical studies. And these DMin students are pastors, they’re engaged in ministry. They know what they don’t know and what they need to know. And so they’re eager beaver learners. I can’t think of a better class of students to have than that. That’s just wonderful. And so these very questions you’re asking about, they just eat them up and they just scribble down the notes and they want all the PowerPoints that I have to offer, and they can’t wait, and that’s where it needs to come.

And I think there’s a lot of weakness in the pulpit because they want Jesus to come across as a friend and a sympathizer, which of course he is. It’s about where they leave him and it’s like, the Bible needs to help. You know, it’s kind of, well, we can’t just teach the Bible. I mean, my goodness. And so it has to get watered down or substituted, you know, with something else. And I think that’s a big mistake. And I think that’s why some churches limp on and limp on, and they don’t see very many conversions. They’re not growing. And it’s because they’re, they’re not, they’re not proclaiming what is, you know, the Word. They’re not the sermon word. Sermon is from the Latin sermo. It means “word.” And they don’t do that. So the sermon is a TED Talk. It’s a pep to help your marriage or something like that.

I’m not saying that’s bad or that it doesn’t need to be in the curriculum anywhere. But the sermo is when everybody is gathered together and, and we sing, we sing songs, praises, we offer a community prayer. The pastor needs to get up there and open up the Word of God. Here’s, here’s Scripture. This is what it means. And it’s powerful. And it, and it affects us. It changes lives and not enough or they’re really shallow. So, I go after the pastors and exhort and encourage them to do a better job of it. And they’re the shepherds. There are tens of thousands of them in North America. And if you can get them to do the job better, some of them do a beautiful job, but a whole lot don’t. And they need to improve. And so I think then, then the congregations start following, and as they get exhorted, don’t dumb it down. What’s wrong with pulling people up? A pastor should say himself as an exhorter and an educator, not just a dumb downer, you know, going after the lowest common denominator.

Tavis Bohlinger (00:56:38):
Yeah, that’s a good word. I think we should end on that. I mean, I don’t know how you can top that. We’ve gone from your personal life, and professional to talking about Jesus, the Dead Sea Scrolls, archeology, this wonderful matrix of knowledge that then you’ve been able to put down in both book and video form and then just now talking about, well, really what’s it all about? And it’s the application, meaning your work being applied through the mouses of the, the shepherds of the church. So that’s a good word. One more book question then is for those listening: what book of yours should they hand to their pastor this Sunday and “Say, pastor, preach.” Preach the Word. Preach the Word, and here’s a book from Dr. Evans to encourage you in that.

Craig Evans (00:57:40):
All right, I’m looking at my books right now. This is gonna take a while.

Tavis Bohlinger (00:57:46):
It’s okay. I have time with you—

Craig Evans (00:57:49):
Okay, well let me see now. Oh, you know—

Tavis Bohlinger (00:57:55):
Well definitely, definitely your most recent one. Right, on grace.

Craig Evans (00:58:02):
So that, let’s say two books, then there at least six sermons in this book, maybe seven.

Tavis Bohlinger (00:58:05):
Okay. Okay. Pastors, I hope you’re listening. There you go. Yeah, yeah.

Craig Evans (00:58:10):
And, and of course the, the videos we’ve been talking about the Mobile Ed ones, but also, I mean, the way it’s done are these little chunks typically 5, 6, 7, 8 minutes working through certain passages. But I did Luke, that was one of them. Boy, was that a lot of fun to do. Okay. I don’t know how many little video clips—must have been 50 of ’em at least. And so you can you, you know, sir, you can listen to two of them, take some notes. He’s got a sermon and the other videos, the ones in archeology, the fragments of truth, tons of good stuff. And of course all of your other mobile ed,

I mean you, like I said, it’s just a huge library and you got great people, Doug Moo. Holy smokes. Yep. You got the best scholars around that have done these videos. So there are plenty of materials available even for the busy past game and preach better stuff, better content in his sermons. And I think educate your Bible teachers. Pastors, sit down and review the curriculum and say, what are we talking about here? Let’s, you know, because it is, it’s not right to have junk taught in a Sunday school class. And that happens. So pastor, you know, yeah. Don’t rely on a lay superintendent. Get involved and make sure that the content of these classes is good content.

Tavis Bohlinger (00:59:44):
Hmm. That’s a good word. Dr. Evans, thank you. Yeah, you’re welcome. Thank you very much for this. I, we appreciate your time. Everyone who’s listening, you heard it from him, the man himself. Let’s get the church on a better track. Make sure you pick up a copy of his new book on Grace so we get that horizontal aspect of serving one another back. And, till next time, I hope we get to talk to you again soon. Thank you so much.

Craig Evans (01:00:14):
You bet. Very welcome.

Written by
Jason Stone

Jason Stone is the Sr. Community Manager at Logos. He has a master’s in biblical exegesis from Wheaton College Graduate School and over a decade of experience with digital marketing, church communications, and ministry.

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Written by Jason Stone