Wilson was born in Montreal in November 1940 and attended Bishop's University, Lennoxville, Quebec, majoring in Philosophy and Psychology, graduating with a B.A. magna cum laude. He completed an M.A. in Philosophy at Columbia University, New York City, and took courses at Union Theological Seminary and the Episcopal Church's General Theological Seminary, both in New York City. He earned a degree in Biblical Studies (S.T.B.) from the Anglican Church’s Trinity College, University of Toronto, studying with Dr. Frank Beare, a noted Biblical scholar and Dr. Eugene Fairweather, an Anglican historian of early Christianity and Dr. Norman Pittenger, a well-regarded Episcopalian process theologian.
Wilson completed his Ph.D. in Philosophy of Religion and Near Eastern Studies at the University of Toronto in 1975. His dissertation was on Biblical Hermeneutics, the logic of textual interpretation, and evidence for making sense of texts.
As a historian Wilson is interested in evidence-based reasoning about biblical texts. As he writes on his website, "My passion has been the new historical puzzles and 'disconnects' created by recent explorations into the foundations of early Christianity."
In 2008 Wilson published How Jesus Became Christian (New York: St. Martin's Press; Toronto, Random House; London, Orion Publishing Group). Wilson advanced “the Jesus Cover-Up” hypothesis, claiming that the theology of Paul of Tarsus covered over the teachings of Jesus and those of his first followers, the Jesus Movement led by Jesus' brother James. Wilson shows in detail how Paul's theology differs from them in terms of "origin, teaching and practices".
Moreover, the New Testament Book of Acts, Wilson claims, represents an influential work of historical revisionism, noting that it is the one work of the Bible that we can compare to something else to judge accuracy. In this case, we can compare what Paul says about himself with what the unknown author of the Book of Acts says about him.
How Jesus Became Christian was shortlisted for the prestigious Cundill Prize in History and was awarded the Joseph and Faye Tanenbaum Prize for History at the 2009 Canadian Jewish Book Awards. Wilson has spoken in many churches and synagogues throughout North America.
James Tabor, chair of the department of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina gave a positive review of the book: "Wilson's How Jesus Became Christian represents a much-needed sea-change in our understanding of how one moves from the historical Jesus to the religion called Christianity. It is beyond doubt one of the most significant works on early Christianity to appear in decades. It is bound to stir controversy, but Wilson’s sober and carefully documented assessment of the evidence is as challenging as it is compelling. Wilson writes with an engaging style, accessible to the nonspecialist while thoroughly academic in quality. Jews, Christians, Muslims, and secularists will all find much of fascination and value in this provocative and important work."
Booklist USA (Ilene Cooper) wrote, "Typically, Christians and others have tried to smooth the jagged edges between Christianity as a Jewish sect and as an worldwide religion by making it seem as if the latter evolved from the former….Wilson offers long, fascinating…arguments about why this seeming evolution was more church propaganda than fact, which he backs up with descriptions of the kinds of early Judaism that allow Jesus his place as a Torah-loving Jew who would find Paul’s view anathema."
The Huffington Post noted, "There are many sources for the following historical interpretation [of how the religious movement we now call Christianity came together], but the most readable and well argued is by Prof. Barrie Wilson, a respected biblical scholar at York University in Toronto…."
Co-authored with Simcha Jacobovici. The Lost Gospel decodes an ancient Syriac manuscript and, in so doing, explores the social and family side of Jesus’ life including his marriage, plots on his life, and attempted abduction and the politics behind the crucifixion. This book continues Wilson’s investigations into the human side of Jesus.
Some people have said, “In their new book, 'The Lost Gospel,' Jacobovici and Wilson have uncovered one of the greatest ancient literary and archaeological mysteries. It is sure to revolutionize future scholarship and excavations in the history of ancient Christianity and Judaism." - Rabbi Dr. Richard Freund, Maurice Greenberg Professor of Jewish History, University of Hartford.
“I very much enjoyed reading the book and find the major thesis of Jesus’ marriage to Mary the Magdalene very convincing. I also liked the style – very modern and conversational I thought it well-structured and convincing I have always felt that the emphasis on celibacy and the identification of sex with sin and corruption is extremely annoying.” - Madelyn B. Dick, Ph.D., Professor Emerita and Senior Scholar, History, York University, Toronto.
“… a rather impressive collaborative work [that] advances the hypothesis that the text belongs to a form of Gnostic Christianity in which a married Jesus with children was a core tradition that might well trace back to the historical Jesus. The public will find it fascinating, clerics will denounce it, and some academics will likely dismiss it as sensational—but it is well worth a careful read.” - James D. Tabor, Professor of Ancient Judaism and Early Christianity, University of North Carolina at Charlotte.
“…this is a serious-minded, thought-provoking and interesting book, giving expression to an excellent knowledge of early Christian sources and the ability to analyze and integrate them into a clear and comprehensible picture. The book abounds with historical surveys and enlightening discussions on its sources, terms, characters and various period-related aspects….This book will certainly occupy a highly important place in the scholarly quest for the historical Jesus, as it raises the fundamental question: how far can scholars go in this quest and to what extent are their conclusions founded. --Rivka Nir, Open University of Israel, Tel Aviv.
Earlier publications built upon Wilson’s interests in textual interpretation. These include About Interpretation: An Anthology of Readings in Hermeneutics from Plato to Dilthey (New York and Munich: Peter Lang, 1989). This publication included readings on textual interpretation arranged chronologically: Plato and Greek philosophers; Allegorical Hermeneutics; Reformation and post-Reformation approaches to textual interpretation; Romanticist Hermeneutics; and modern issues in interpretation theory of religious texts.
Hermeneutical Studies: The Virtue of Interpretive Practice (New York: Mellon) was published in 1991. This volume included scholarly papers on Plato, Sophocles’ play Oedipus the King, the Syriac philosopher Bar-Daisan, Rudolf Bultmann’s influential proposal to de-mythologize New Testament writings, and the American literary critic E. D. Hirsch.
Wilson also published two book on logic, Anatomy of Argument (1980) and To the Point (1989).
Wilson has written a variety of articles on Paul, available through his website. These include "If we only had Paul, what would we know of Jesus?", as well as "Taking Paul at his Word". A mini-book, "The Hidden Scroll" represents an attempt to visualize the world of early Christianity, the way in which the followers of James would not – and could not – have interacted with those of Paul. Other writings include a discussion on how to fix the contents of the New Testament.
Wilson has appeared in a variety of documentaries, including several on the popular series, The Naked Archeologist, Secrets of Christianity episode #4; National Geographic UK Ancient X-files episode on Mary Magdalene and Gnostic Christianity; The Last Days of Jesus (2014 - PBS).
A member of the Toronto Psychoanalysis and Film Study Group, Wilson contributes a paper annually exploring the psychological interpretation of films. These can be found at his website.
Wilson is married to Linda Reeser and they have three children, Jamie, David and Michael. With a previous wife, Wilson has two children, Andrew and Dorothy.The Lost Gospel, co-authored with Simcha Jacobovici, November 2014 (Canada: HarperCollins; USA: Pegasus)
How Jesus Became Christian (USA: St. Martin’s Press; Canada: Random House; UK, Australia, NZ: Orion Publishing, March 2008; paperback 2009)
Hermeneutical Studies: The Virtue of Interpretive Practice (New York: Mellon, 1991).
About Interpretation: An Anthology of Readings in Hermeneutics from Plato to Dilthey (New York and Munich: Peter Lang, 1989).
To The Point (Boston: Christopher, 1988).
Interpretation, Meta-Interpretation, and Oedipus Tyrannus (Berkeley: Center for Hermeneutical Studies, 1981).
The Anatomy of Argument (Washington DC: University Press of America, 1986 revised edition, and 1980).