BGST Faculty & Staff wish all our readers a Blessed Lunar New Year!

The Birth of Christianity: the First Twenty Years.


By Paul Barnett.

Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005. 240 pp.

Review by Dr Aquila Lee

This book comes from a former Anglican bishop of North Sydney, Australia and a teaching fellow at Regent College in Vancouver. He has distinguished himself over a long career as an outstanding historian and a biblical scholar particularly interested in the historicity of the New Testament documents. This book is the first of a planned trilogy entitled After Jesus. The forthcoming volumes are projected as Paul and His Mission Churches” and Finding the Historical Christ. When one notices that this book is about the birth or origin of Christianity, an immediate reaction could be that we already have such a book in the Acts of the Apostles. True, that is indeed what Acts purports to be, but we have problems to overcome. We need to be alerted that the book of Acts is a highly selective narrative, with surprising omissions and an absence of chronological markers for Pauls early days.


The present volume is set out to provide an alternative view to J. D. Crossans The Birth of Christianity (HarperSanFrancisco, 1998) by examining the enigmatic twenty years following the crucifixion. While both books offer historical reconstructions of the same period, namely, the beginnings of Christianity in the 30s and 40s, Barnett notes that as his methods are different from Crossans so will be his conclusions.


As an introduction Barnett gives critiques of radical scholars who reject Jesus as the miracle-working messianic figure presented in the Gospels. Barnett attempts to demonstrate that such a portrait of Jesus in the Gospels is historically reliable. In contrast to Crossan, who heavily relies on the hypothetical document “Q and the extra-canonical Gospel of Thomas, Barnetts reconstructions are mainly based on Pauls authentic letters as the earliest extant witnesses to Jesus and the first part of Acts. Contrary to Crossan and others, Barnett is convinced that the first two decades of Christian history are hardly lost years, but are open to historical investigation.


After a couple of chapters devoted to the discussion of the ancient sources, the problems of dealing with ancient histories and his calculation of the chronological framework, Barnett surveys the flow of Christian history for the years 33-47. This history is integrated with the Roman imperial developments and the history of the eastern empire for the same period. He shows his expertise as a secular historian and a biblical scholar.


Barnetts main thesis is that the birth of Christianity and the birth of christology are inseparable, both as to time and essence (p.8). In other words, Barnett finds a high christology in the years immediately following the crucifixion and detects little christological development throughout Pauls letters. A common scholarly assumption is that a high christology, i.e., understanding Jesus as Messiah, Son of God and Lord, gradually developed after Jesus death and resurrection. Barnett in this book challenges this common view and focuses on the earliest theological understanding of Jesus and the spread of that understanding through missionary activity, especially in the land of Israel. He repeatedly emphasizes the implications of a high christology alongside the brevity of the time span in which that christology was formed. Barnett is convinced that any attempts to explain the rise of Christianity by sociological or psychological grounds are doomed to failure. For him, Christ or christological conviction was the engine that drove early Christianity.


In a way Barnetts thesis is corroborated by my doctoral work, in which Ive argued that the root of preexistent Son Christology is found in early Christian exegesis of the two messianic psalms (Pss. 110:1 and 2:7) in the light of Jesus self-consciousness of divine sonship and divine mission. The tremendous impact left by the resurrection event and the resulting conception of Jesus "literally" enthroned to God's right hand led them to see Jesus as the preexistent Lord and Son of God.


Building on the chronological work of R. Riesner and others, Barnett concludes that Pauls Damascus road conversion took place in 34, one year after Jesus’ crucifixion. As an analysis of Pauls letters (e.g., 1 Cor 15:1-7; Rom 1:14) shows that he received this christological conviction from others, this christology must have been developed in the year between Jesus death and Pauls conversion. This early date in turn implies that the christology essentially goes back to Jesus himself.


Writing in a very accessible style, Barnett provides an informative, reliable chronology of the years immediately following Jesus crucifixion. Although some speculative arguments are advanced at some points here and there, the general thrust of his arguments can be well taken and provides a good guide to those who seek a biblically based history of the beginning of Christianity during the first twenty years.


Courses Commencing ...

̃   Old Testament Foundations I (OT101, 3 credits), starting Feb 2 (new date). Lecturer: Dr Philip Satterthwaite

̃    New Testament Foundations I (NT101, 3 credits), starting Feb 3. Lecturer: Dr Aquila Lee.

̃    *New Testament Greek I (BG111, video class, 3 credits), starting Feb 4 at Bishan campus. Lecturer: Dr Quek Swee Hwa.

̃    New Testament Greek: Basic Research Tools & Methods (BG214, video class, 1.5 credits), starting Feb 4 at Bishan campus. Lecturer: Dr Quek Swee Hwa.

̃    *Greek Exegesis I (BG211, video class, 3 credits), starting Feb 4 at Bishan campus. Lecturer: Dr Quek Swee Hwa.

̃    *Biblical Hebrew I (BH111, 3 credits), starting Feb 7. Lecturer: Dr Augustine Pagolu.

̃    *Biblical Hebrew: Basic Research Tools & Methods (BH214, 1.5 credits), starting Feb 7. Lecturer: Dr Augustine Pagolu.

̃    Wisdom & Ecclesiastes (OT353, 1.5 credits), starting Feb 8 at Thomson Rd Baptist Church. Lecturer: Dr Philip Satterthwaite.

̃    *Counsellor’s Skills: Developing Micro-Skills in Counselling (CO213, 3 credits), starting Feb 8 (new date). Lecturer: Mr Song Cheng Hock.

̃    Contextual Hermeneutics: Reading the Bible in the Asian Context (HE210, 1.5 credits), starting Feb 10. Lecturer: Dr Augustine Pagolu.

̃    *Better Speech for Leadership & Ministry (AT231, 1.5 credits), starting Feb 22 (new date). Lecturer: Rev Ng Seng Chuan.

̃    Spirituality for Christian Formation (CE263, 1.5 credits), starting Mar 7. Lecturer: Mr John Chong Ser Choon.

Courses marked with an asterisk  (*) are not offered on audit basis. Visit our website for course description. For registration, call 62276815 or email


We continue our presentation of our recent graduates. Praise God with us for Chris Chin and for others to be presented next week.

 Chris Chin Sin Yoong, Grad Dip CS (summa cum laude), MCS (summa cum laude).

 Chris was an equities analyst and portfolio manager in Singapore, Boston and Hong Kong, before he set up a niche healthcare business with his wife. He is currently attending Salvation Army (Changi Corps) where he helps in Christian Education. He is working at helping today’s generation rediscover the biblical world. His favourite verse is Ecclesiastes 3:1: ‘To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.’

Thesis Summary: A Desert Flower – The Story of Rahab of Jericho (A Novel)

As history-in-fiction, A Desert Flower offers a verisimilitude faithful to biblical history, archaeology, geography and culture amidst a re-imagining of what could have been. Part I: Death. Rahab seeks work in Jericho to help support her family. However, it is a troubled time, and she struggles to make ends meet. Meanwhile, two young spies slip across the Jordan to survey Jericho, and crash into her life when they stop by her inn overlooking the town walls. This collision escalates when the Israelites attack and destroy Jericho, and Rahab and her family are taken to live among the Israelites. Part II: Birth. Love blossoms between Rahab and Salmah, one of the two spies. But there is much conflict as the tribal elders protest against the union between the son of the chieftain of Judah and a foreign woman who has been a harlot. The community of Israel and the couple trudge through a morass of theological and moral problems, moving towards a conclusion whose implications will ripple through generations to come.

 We congratulate Chris on his three awards:

¨      Dean’s Prize - in memory of the late Mr Charles Phan Chauw Fatt

¨      Hebrew Prize - in memory of the late Mr Charles Phan Chauw Fatt

¨      Old Testament Prize - in memory of the late Elder Lee Tsu Hwai

News Bits

1. Bereavement. Our deepest condolences to our alumnus Rev & Mrs Alby Yip Kong Fai on the homegoing of Alby’s father, the late Mr Yip Nagan, on 17 Jan 2006.

 2. Dr Quek was discharged from hospital on 23 Jan. For the latest update, please visit our website.

 3. Chapel speaker on 1 Feb will be Rev Peter Chng.

A Blessed Birthday to… 


Mr Jonathan Cortes  30/1

Mr Lawrence Low  30/1

Mr Robert Tan  30/1

Mdm Chan Chung Hoi  1/2

Mdm Seah Chiew Kwan  1/2

Ms Chan Ee Yuee  2/2

Ms Teo Yea Ling  2/2

Mr Tan Kim Tian  3/2

Mr Siew Kim Siang  3/2

Mr Tan Keng Lak  3/2

Mr Wilson Tan  3/2

Ms Anna Toh  4/2

Mr William Teo  4/2

Mrs Susan Lim  4/2

Dr Wong Lea Choung  4/2

Mr Siow Yew Mun  4/2


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