Marcus Borg talks to Candace Chellow-Hodge at Religion Dispatches about reading the New Testament chronologically and what this approach teaches us about the early Church and about being a Christian.
Marcus Borg: In the New Testament, among the things we learn by reading it in chronological order is, in a sense, the obvious: mainly that there were vibrant Christian communities. I call them ‘Christ communities’ since there was not a separate religion called ‘Christianity’ in the first century. There were vibrant Christ communities spread out around the Mediterranean world before any of the documents were written, so the documents give us glimpses, or windows, into what those Christ communities were like.
And they make clear that the New Testament as a whole, including the gospels, are the product of those communities, written to those communities, and in many cases written within those communities. So, we learn that it’s not that the gospels created early Christianity but early Christianity produces the gospels as well as the other documents.
The book of Revelation, which of course comes at the end of the familiar New Testament, is almost in the middle—number 14 of 27 documents. When the book of Revelation comes at the end of the New Testament, it makes the whole of the New Testament sound as if we’re still looking forward to the second coming of Jesus and what is popularly called ‘the end of the world.’ When the book of Revelation appears more or less in the middle, we see it, hear it and understand it as a document produced in a particular time and place that tells us about what that Christ community, and the author, John of Patmos, thought would happen soon, in their time—rather than it being ‘Oh, this is still about the future from our point in time.’