Balanced New Testament Analysis

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A Balanced scholar account that does not assume that does not start with the assumption that the God guided the authors of the Bible and his church.


Textual Problems Of The Bible

1.      The New Testament Text

There was actually a long dark tunnel period between the writings of the NT (New Testament) writings and them being treated as Holy Writ. The earliest papyrus is Rylands P52 dated ca. l40 CE, but this only has just 6 verses of John. In fact the first complete MSS of the NT are 4th century (Sinaiticus and Vaticanus). All NT writings were apparently written in Greek - not the language that Palestinian Jew would have used. There was clearly tampering with the text in this tunnel period - Eusebius admits this was so - H.E. 29.6-7. The differences between the Byzantine, Alexandrian, and Caesarean text show copyists changed the text (e.g. Acts 2:l7 in the Western text).

The 3rd century Christian writer Origen condemned such Christians for "their depraved audacity" in changing the text. Jerome told Pope Damascus of the "numerous errors" that had arisen in the texts through attempted harmonizing. In 1707 John Mill of Oxford listed 30,000 variants in the different N.T texts and at the beginning of this century with further discoveries of manuscripts, the scholar Herman von Soden listed some 45,000 variants in the N.T texts illustrating how they were altered. Even in the one 4th century Codex Sinaiticus containing all the N.T, Professor Tishendorf, the discoverer, noted that it had been altered by at least three different scribes. Therefore this shows the present-day Bible is not a "inerrant copy" of the original writings.

2.      The New Testament Canon

There is also the question of the writings in the New Testament canon which were not accepted by the early Christians (James, Hebrews, Revelation), but are now accepted, and that Christians reject the writings the early Christians did accept and used (e.g. Hermas, Barnabas, the Didache). This in itself shows the church is not interested in sustaining the 'original faith' and has chosen the writings that suits its own teachings. This is all apart from the fact that the church did not even agree to the 27 writings now in the NT until Athanasius' Easter Letter of 367 CE, but even then, he STILL recommended the reading of non-canonical writings (e.g. The Didache), and furthermore, the dispute continued right on to the 9th century, as is seen by the church lists of accepted writings.

3.      The accuracy of the Gospels

On examination of passages arising in the four Gospels, it can be seen that the narrative is composed to suit the theological viewpoint of the evangelist. When comparing a narrative with its parallel in another Gospel, or when a narrative only appears in one Gospel, it becomes obvious that the evangelists had their own beliefs and attitudes, and these sometimes become obvious. It is clear that the authors of the Gospels shaped, remolded, selected and adapted the material available to them to suit their purpose. From this it can be seen that the evangelists selected and adapted the material available to them, so they could write with a special purpose and objective in mind.

Matthews's author, using Mark as a source, wanted to show Jesus' mission was to the Jews, as their own messiah, but the author of Luke, also using Mark as a source, wanted to picture Jesus in a way that his Hellenistic readers would understand and relate to.

The author of John, possibly using Mark or a Ur-Markus, as a source, or the source of Mark for some of his information, wrote from a highly individual viewpoint and in this Gospel, the writer's personal interpretation and authorship becomes most apparent. Before the resurrection in Matthew however, Jesus is shown as being solely for the Jews; Jesus is pictured as the Jewish messiah, the descendent of Abraham and the Son of David; his life fulfilled the OT prophecies and expectations. On occasions the OT texts are wrestled from their context and used very artificially in Matthew. Whilst pro-Jewish, the author writes against certain Jewish groups which he felt particular hostility towards. In Luke, Jesus is the savior of the world - to Jew, Samaritan and Gentile. Luke's author makes it clear that from the very beginning, not only Israel, but the world was blessed by Jesus' appearance on earth (2:l4,32). In Luke, Jesus' coming was vital in world history and history, both past and present had to be shaped around the years of Jesus' life on earth. Jesus' coming in Luke influences history as is shown by Jesus' comment in Luke l6:l6 that the law and prophets were only 'until John'. From this point a new phase in history begins. Luke's author was clearly sympathetic to the poor and outcast; he includes material that teaches this and which is only found in Luke, e.g. the woes against the wealthy (6:24,25), the story of Lazarus and the Rich man (Luke l6); there is one case where Luke is detailing the same material as Matthew, but a clear change is made to uphold his view towards the poor - "Blessed are the poor in spirit....Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness..." (Matt. 5:3,6), but in Luke this is "Blessed are you poor....Blessed are you that hunger now..." (6:20,21). Here, as can be clearly seen, the evangelist has deliberately changed the wording to suit either his spiritual theology (Matthew) or his social theology (Luke). In Luke there is the call by Jesus to care for the outcast with the promise of reward for doing this (l4:12-l4), and there is also Jesus' teaching that the despised classes (in this case a tax collector) were more sincere and pleasing to God than the so-called religious teachers (l8:l0-l4).

It has been argued that the Gospels contain 'pillar passages', i.e. statements that conflicted with early church theology and belief which created problems for the early church, but despite this, the fact that these were included shows that the evangelists faithfully recorded these and that they wrote a reliable account of Jesus' life. One such passage is Mark 3:21 where it is stated that Jesus' family went out to 'seize him' because of the accusations of insanity. At first sight this does appear that the author has included something that puts Jesus' family in a bad light and it certainly clashes with the church's belief that Jesus' family later became members of the church (e.g. Acts l:l4) and were later held in high esteem. However, some commentators believe this is not necessarily connected with mental instability, and furthermore, the author may have had in mind the 'prophesy' of Is. 53:3 that the servant would be despised and rejected of men; indeed Jesus does remind the disciples that he would suffer contempt (9:l2). In Mark there is the statement that Jesus could not work miracles because of unbelief (6:5) and indeed Matthew (l3:58) modifies this, and Luke omits it altogether, but this is not necessarily a passage that reduces Jesus' stature; Mark repeatedly emphasizes the need to believe in Jesus for his power to be able to manifest itself - e.g. Mark 5:34; l0:52. Because some passages were included in the Gospels and these may have embarrassed the church does not necessarily lead to the conclusion that the evangelists recorded an accurate historical account of Jesus' life; this is particularly so in view of the situation in the early church which was not uniform and was very fluid.

The principal motive of each evangelist in producing a 'Gospel' was for the preaching of the early church; the Gospels were not intended to be for general and public circulation and reading. It is clear that they did write as theologians and not historians and therefore they cannot be viewed as trustworthy (i.e. reliable and accurate) historians.

In John, hostility against Judaism reaches a peak; by the end of the first century, Christianity was no longer deemed to be just a schism in Judaism. By this time there was an official cursing of the Christians ('Minim') in the synagogues. The Gospel of John therefore coincides with the mutual feeling between the Jews and early Christians at the time of being written. In John, the Jews are pictured as slow, dull-witted, aggressive and hypocritical, deviating from the original faith. They are prepared to murder (l2:l0-ll) and are pictured as ignorant of God's word (5:38-40), without God's love (5:42), accused by Moses (5:45), potential murderers (8:40), children of the devil who was a murderer and liar (8:44) and they are even reported as making several attempts to kill Jesus (8:59;l0:31). The author puts words into their mouths which could not have been spoken; the statement of 'We have no king but Caesar' by the chief priests (l9:l5) would have been a denial of all Jewish theology and history apart from the fact that a Jewish leader making this statement would soon encounter the fury of the nationalist Zealots. The author comes very close to preventing Jesus from being a Jew himself when he writes of Jesus speaking to the Jews of 'your father Abraham' (8:56), 'your law' (l0:34). He continues his polemic in having the Jews even asking for leg-breaking after Jesus had died (l9:31) which results in Pilate instructing this even though it conflicts with Mark which describes Pilate as being unaware of Jesus' death (l5:44-45). John also writes about the expulsion of Christians from the synagogues and the possibility of executions (9:22, l6:2), which did not exist in the time that Jesus supposedly lived, but did exist in the closing years of the first century when the Gospel was written (i.e. the official cursing of the 'Minim' inserted into the synagogue service under Rabbi Gamaliel, ca. 85 CE).

Another indication that the evangelists have composed stories about Jesus without historical foundation is their interpretation of what they considered to be Old Testament 'prophesies'. Because the author of John understood the Hebrew parallelism of Psalm 22:l8 as two completely separate actions, he has the soldiers carrying out two separate actions (l9:23-24). The other evangelists who did not misunderstand this, only have one action in the disposal of Jesus' clothes (Matt. 27:35, Mark l5:24, Luke 23:34). In the same way, the author of Matthew misunderstood the parallelism of Zech. 9:9 and had two animals involved in Jesus' entry into Jerusalem (21:2-7) when in fact there is only one animal being spoken about. The other evangelists do not make this mistake and therefore only have one animal - Mark l:2-7, Luke l9:30-35, John l2:l4-l6.

These examples show that the evangelists, rather than being historians, were only interested in the theology of what they were writing about. In these two cases they have deliberately introduced details to 'agree' what they felt to be an OT prophecy. One commentator admits that the whole of Jesus' trial is based on OT prophesy; therefore rather than the Christian statement that the life of Jesus 'fulfilled' OT prophesies (although in reality few are actual 'prophesies'), the very reverse is true - Jesus' earthly life was built up on these 'prophesies'.

John gives the picture of the Logos in full control of every situation with his power being considerably greater than the Synoptics, e.g. whilst the Synoptics record resurrections of people who had only just died (e.g. Matt. 9:l8), Jesus resurrects a man who had been dead for four days (ll:l7), the blind man healed was not like the man who had once seen in the Synoptics (Mark 8:24), but had been blind from birth (9:l), Jesus carries his own cross (l9:l7) and does need not this to be carried for him as in the Synoptics (e.g. Matt. 27:32). Again, the theological view of John's author completely overshadows any desire to present a historical account; his account is to show that Jesus was the Son of God and historical facts are not relevant. In the same way, the author of Matthew is keen to show that Jesus was the Jewish Messiah, while the authors of Luke and Mark are more concerned with portraying a Jesus who would be acceptable to Gentiles.

Mark, almost certainly the first Gospel, includes a number of errors which not only show that the author was not an eyewitness to the events he so vividly describes (and also, was not based on anyone else's account who was an eyewitness), but also that details such as features of the Jewish religion, geography and chronology were only secondary to his purposes. Mark (1:2) has a quotation from Malachi 3:l and Isaiah 40:3, but he attributes both to Isaiah (furthermore he interfered with the poetry by changing the location of the wilderness), there is a chronological error in naming Abiathar as the high priest (2:26), Herod is called a king when he was in fact a tetrarch and this is followed by an error about Philip's wife (6:l4,l7), he attributed a custom of the strict Pharisees to all the Jews (7:3), his mention of Dalmanutha in 8:10 indicates he was not very familiar with Palestine, there is a reference by Jesus to women divorcing their husbands, a custom not possible in Palestine (l0:12), together with an error over the timing of the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread (l4:l,12). On occasions, the author seems to be confused about Palestinian life. The errors contained within Mark were 'corrected' by the authors of Matthew and Luke, and sometimes by later copyists, particularly when they involved important theological points. It was the same situation with each of the four evangelists; each one had a particular motive, each one had a specific theological belief and each one had a certain group of people in mind for whom their Gospel was intended.

On occasions, the reason for relating a story not found in the other three Gospels, or for making a drastic change in it is not altogether clear. All four Gospels have the story of Jesus being anointed by a woman; Matthew (26:6-l3) and Mark (l4:2-ll) have this after the entry into Jerusalem, but John has this before, while Luke has it long before the arrival in Jerusalem during the early ministry (Luke 7:36-50).

Whilst Luke has the woman anointing Jesus' feet as does John (l2:3), Matthew and Mark have the woman anointing Jesus' head. Other minor differences occur, e.g. Jesus tells Peter of his denials after leaving the room where the last supper was eaten, on the way to Gethsemane in Matthew (26:30-35) and Mark (l4:26-31), but in Luke (22:33-34/39) and John (l3:37-38/l8:l), Jesus tells him before leaving.

In Luke, Jesus is assaulted before the questioning by the Sanhedrin and the questioning takes place the following morning (22:63-71), but in Matthew (26:57-68/27:l) and Mark (l4:53-65/l5:l) the assault is immediately after the questioning and this all takes place before the morning. Presumably there was a reason for the differences which occur in all four Gospels, but they have been lost in time.

Differences such as these may arise because of the evangelist wishing to convey a particular point that is not obvious, or they may simply arise because of the way the material/tradition was transmitted and reached the evangelist.

When certain passages are examined, it can be seen what the evangelist had in mind and furthermore, what he personally viewed as important. The author of Matthew wanted to show that Jesus' mission was to the Jews. In l5:21-28, Jesus' objection to healing the Gentile woman's daughter is much more obvious than in Mark (in Mark, the only time Jesus is called 'Lord' is by this woman - 7:28; here Mark has used the story, which in Matthew is anti-Gentile, to show that it was a Gentile who recognized who Jesus was). Matthew also adds that Jesus said that he had only come 'to the lost sheep of the house of Israel'. The author of Luke, not only pro-Gentile, but endeavoring to portray Jesus as humane, omits the whole story.

Jesus instructed his disciples not to go anywhere near Gentiles or Samaritans, but to go to 'the lost sheep of the house of Israel' in Matthew l0:5-6, but Mark does not include this (6:7ff) and nor does Luke (9:lff). Luke contradicts this by saying that Jesus wanted to enter Samaria, but was prevented from doing so by the inhabitants (9:52-53); also in Luke, Jesus heals a Samaritan (l7:ll-l6), and Jesus' mission to the Samaritans, which is precluded in Matthew, goes even further in John when Jesus goes into Samaria and many are converted there (4:4,5,39-42). It is generally accepted that the seventy disciples sent out in Luke l0:l was a Gentile mission.

Not only did the authors of Matthew and Luke correct the errors in Mark, and the author of John reinterpret the oral and written material that was the basis for the Synoptic Gospel account, they also clearly made considerable changes to Mark. Although some corrections and changes are to make the account more authentic, the principal cause for the changes is clearly theological. This can be traced in all four Gospels, from beginning to end.

Matthew begins with a genealogy tracing Jesus back to Abraham through David (l:l-16) - to show Jesus as the Jewish Messiah, but Luke has this going back to Adam (3:23-38) to show Jesus' coming was to save all mankind and not just Israel. This fact is announced just after the birth in Luke also - 2:28,32. The author of Mark begins his Gospel very abruptly, whilst the author of John begins his Gospel by stating that Jesus was the pre-existent Logos, and it is this portrayal that runs throughout John. To the end of the Gospels, the personal theological belief, manner and motivation of each author still manifests itself; in Mark the resurrection narrative ends as abruptly as the Gospel begins; the resurrection appearances are not detailed possibly because the whole message of Mark is faith (Mark 16:9-20 is generally accepted to be a later addition to avoid the abrupt ending).

In Matthew, the last appearance by Jesus to the disciples is on a mountain; this may be an attempt to connect Jesus' departure with Moses' (NB. In Matthew, Jesus teaches about the law on a mountain - 5:l,l7-42, which recalls Moses receiving the law on the mountain; in the Lukan parallel, Jesus did not teach on a mountain, but rather 'he came down and stood on a level place' and this did not relate to the law - 6:l7-49; this in itself is an example of how the evangelists adapted material to illustrate a theological point). The author of Matthew endeavored to show that Jesus did not come to 'end' Judaism, but was a fulfillment of it. In Luke, Jesus' departure is in the area of Jerusalem where the disciples are to remain, i.e. where it all began.

In John the emphasis was to instill faith in those who already believed but felt distanced from Jesus by being second or third-generation Christians (20:29,31).

What has to be borne in mind is the fact that the evangelists were not only producing their narratives from isolated disconnected sayings and stories, many of which had survived down to their time only through oral tradition, their narratives were also related to the Jesus they believed in, pictured through their own personal experience; their account was also shaped for the people for whom it was intended. The Gospels would also reflect the evangelists' own culture and background. They also had to deal with factors which had only emerged during their time, e.g. why Jesus had not returned, why Judaism had rejected its Messiah, how Christianity could be related to Judaism, how Christianity could show that Jesus was the one foretold in the Old Testament, and as the church became distanced from the time that Jesus supposedly lived, the rising importance of the disciples/apostles.

The evangelists cannot therefore be viewed as trustworthy historians as they saw historical information only as a basis for the 'Good News' they were attempting to declare. This information only served as a background for the story they wanted to tell. As the Gospels are not biographies of Jesus' life, but rather, compositions for preaching and/or to satisfy the need of a particular Christian community, their value as "historical" documents is 'nil'. The source of Matthew and Luke, although there is still disagreement over this, appears to have been a mixture of:

    1. the Q document; in fact the authors of Matthew and Luke may not have used the same document, i.e. due to difference in time and area, one evangelist may have seen a different (e.g. expanded) Q document; the term 'Q' is also used to denote oral as well as written tradition;
    2. Mark; it appears they most probably used the canonical Mark, and not an earlier edition;
    3. their own sources.

Both Gospels mainly follow the order in Mark. In the case of Luke, more than one-third is material not found in Mark, but almost one-third of Mark is not found in Luke. The non-Markan material is principally inserted into two places in Luke, i.e. 6:20-8:3 (the small insertion) and 9:51-l8:l4 (the large insertion) although there is non-Markan material found in the sections that do repeat Mark (e.g. Luke 3:23-4:l3, 4:l6-30).

In the case of Matthew, half of Matthew is not found in Mark, whilst over a half of this material is found in Luke; the remainder appears to be Matthew's author's own material.

This leads to numerous questions, e.g. did the authors write, but then expand on them when coming across Mark (Kummel considers this unlikely with Luke due to the Markan omissions), or whether their special material was actually found in Q, but because the other evangelist chose not to use it, this results in it appearing to be material only available to them.

It is also argued that the special material in some cases was not written, but oral tradition; some have gone as far as suggesting that the material found in only one Gospel, without parallel in another could even be the author's own thoughts, i.e. they composed stories that they believed would teach the readers about a subject they considered important, e.g. Luke's story of Lazarus and the Rich Man (Luke l6).

A brief examination of both Matthew and Luke will show that the authors were sympathetic to certain ideas, and introduced these into their Gospels, either by simply rephrasing or rearranging the material, or by using stories that supported their particular ideas. Matthew's author clearly wished to show that Jesus' mission was only to the Jews (l0:5,6;l5:24); in the case of the Canaanite woman (l5:22-28), Jesus' hostility is far greater in Matthew, than in Mark (7:24-30), but Luke's author chose to omit this altogether. In Matthew the Gentile mission was really only authorized after the resurrection (28:l9); it is at this point where the pro-Jewish line is concluded; after the crucifixion the Jews are pictured as being particularly hostile - e.g. approaching Pilate to authorize a guard on the tomb (27:62-66) and the Jews bribing guards to say the disciples had stolen the body (28:ll-l5); the historicity of both incidents has been questioned.

On occasions it is inevitable there would be a clash between the two evangelists; whilst it would be possible to argue a certain point that is also argued in the other Gospel, or perhaps omitted altogether, on occasions the beliefs of the evangelists do conflict.

Whilst Matthew has Jesus telling the disciples to avoid Gentiles and Samaritan towns, but to go only to the 'lost house of Israel' (l0:5,6), Luke has Jesus attempting to enter a Samaritan town, but not doing this only because of Samaritan hostility due to his intention to reach Jerusalem (Luke 9:51-53). He also heals a Samaritan, and Luke's author elevates the Samaritan by pointing out that he was the only one who expressed gratitude (Luke l7:ll-l9); there is also the story, only found in Luke, about the 'good Samaritan' who is also elevated above the priest and the Levite (l0:30-37).

In contrast to the Jewish-only mission of Matthew l0, not only does Luke omit mention of the exclusiveness of this mission (9:l-6), but it also has a second mission which is usually understood as a mission specifically for the Gentiles in l0:l-l7 (i.e. the number of seventy (or seventy two - as some MSS have) disciples is significant; the Jews believed this was the number of Gentile nations). Luke's author stresses the success of the Gentile mission by having Jesus say that he had seen Satan cast down when the seventy/seventy-two returned (l0:l8).

Luke's author also amended the Passion narrative; the assault upon Jesus is made by the prison guards and before his appearance before the Sanhedrin, which takes place the next morning (22:63-7) unlike Matthew's account of Jesus being beaten at the Sanhedrin hearing, which took place at night.

Luke's author rearranged the material as he saw fit - e.g., Jesus' anointing occurs at in the early stage (7:36-50) unlike Matthew (with whom Mark and John agree) who detail this in the last days in Jerusalem (Matt 26:6-l3).

The trial/death of Jesus in the Gospels looks suspect as although his crime of blasphemy could be punished on a Feast day, there was no permit to execute thieves on a Feast day, but the Gospels say thieves were executed with him. Yet more evidence of the fictitious character of the Gospels. Luke's author also makes other changes, e.g. the statement by Jesus to the high priest which in Matthew 26:64 has Jesus saying that the high priest would see his return is amended to remove any likelihood of this in Luke (Luke 22:69). The cryptic "abomination of desolation" in Matthew (24:l5) is made into Jerusalem's fall in 70 AD, but as Jesus' return was supposed to be "immediately" after this (Matthew 24:29), Luke introduces an unspecified time-period between the Fall and the Parousia ("the times of the Gentiles" - 2l:20,24).

Luke takes on the appearance of a travel narrative (9:51-l9:27), and in this Gospel, the author has the material in a different order (when compared with Matthew), and he presumably did this where it would have the most impact and be more appropriate.

Here is an example of redaction where the author has consciously adapted his material to suit his theological motive, i.e. Jerusalem is the starting point for not only Jesus, but also the church, i.e. Jesus' presentation in Jerusalem, his boyhood visit there, his journey there as part of his ministry, concluding with his crucifixion, resurrection and ascension in the area with the disciples being instructed to wait there for the Spirit. It is because of such endeavors, a conflict is inevitable between Luke and Matthew, i.e. the infancy and the resurrection narratives; where both evangelists had a free hand (i.e. before Jesus' ministry began - Mark 1:1 - and after the visit to the tomb - Mark l6:8 - the evangelists were no longer obliged to follow Mark, and at these points the difference becomes the most noticeable.

There are other factors which arise in Matthew and Luke that show, rather than being "historical documents", i.e. authentic reliable accounts of historical events, they are compositions where the theological purpose took priority. Matthew in not explaining references to Jewish customs indicates it was written for a Jewish audience not requiring explanations; he stresses the importance and validity of the Law and also uses Jewish expressions along with rabbinical coloring. Luke however is presenting a Gospel to deal with problems peculiar to his situation; for his Gentile readers, he improves Mark's Greek. He also makes changes where necessary, e.g. the attitude of Jesus' family to Jesus, the non-fulfilment of the promise of an imminent Parousia. The author of Luke and Acts also developed a picture in his writings that showed Christianity presented no threat to the Romans. Therefore they are not accurate accounts, but are purely personal interpretations and presentations of a new faith.

4.      The historicity of Jesus

The church has failed to show any proof that the Gospels were in existence before 125 CE. This is demonstrated if one looks at the second century Christian writings. The author of 1 Clement, an anonymous letter, usually dated as ca. 96 CE, and attributed to Clement writing from Rome to the church at Corinth, does not appear to be aware of any written Gospels. On two occasions he refers to what Jesus had said; in chap. l3, he repeats the words of Jesus, very similar to those in the Gospels, although they are not quotations. In chap 46 he brings together two unconnected Markan statements (9:21 and l4:21) and he appears to be quoting loose sayings that were circulating, but not in a fixed form; this view is strengthened by the fact that he never refers to Gospel stories, or sayings, when it would be very appropriate, applicable and would support the argument he is making; instead he quotes or refers to the OT.

Ignatius, ca. ll0 CE, mentions the Gospel although it again appears he is referring to the Gospel message, rather than written documents. He gives much more information about Jesus' life, but as he refers to things not found in any of the four canonical Gospels, e.g. the story of Jesus speaking after the resurrection, (Smyrn. 3) which is apparently from the apocryphal Gospel according to the Hebrews and not from the canonical Gospels, and he describes the Bethlehem star in a way that is not found in Matthew (the only canonical Gospel to mention this), it is not clear what written Gospel was available to him. He refers to other NT writings, but there is no clear indication he knew of any written Gospels. In his letter to the Philippians he uses terms found in Matthew and Luke although it is noteworthy that the author of l John, facing the same Docetic problem as Ignatius, but at an earlier time, clearly did not have the biographical information about Jesus, which was available to Ignatius.

The Epistle of Barnabas ca. l30 CE, uses OT references to support its contents when NT ones would have been far more appropriate. It refers to a passage in Matthew 20:l6b and 22:l4 and surprisingly for this early date calls it 'Scripture'; this is quite unique. However, 20:l6b appears to have been an interpolation and if it was a loose saying, it is more likely the author is using Matthew's source, rather than Matthew itself. The author chose to use the apocryphal Enoch when writing about the end (instead of Mark l3), and in referring to the crucifixion he refers to the Psalms, not the Gospels. The Epistle (chap. 7) has a saying attributed to Jesus not found in the Gospels.

Polycarp, ca. l30 CE, apparently knew Matt. and/or Luke and improves upon Clement's "quotations", but apparently didn't know of John's Gospel.

Papias, ca. l40 CE, mentions Matthew and Mark in written form, but not Luke or John and he also made use of non-canonical apocryphal literature indicating that Matthew and Mark were not seen a sole source of the gospel message.

Justin Martyr, in the middle of the second century, refers to written Gospels which were deemed as authoritative as the OT, but he does not name them, nor state their number so it is not known what he was referring to. He too, used non-canonical material.

It was only by ca. l70 CE that Tatian was using all four Gospels for his Diatessaron harmony and about a decade later Irenaeus was arguing for acceptance of the four canonical Gospels, and only those. Therefore it appears that the writings that give Jesus a historical place only appeared in the closing years of the first century and even these took quite some time to be established and accepted. Therefore with regard to Jesus of Nazareth being some kind of historical person, surely one is justified in asking why there appears to be so little said by this figure that is original; for example, a good deal of the Sermon of the Mount goes back to the Old Testament or lst century BCE apocryphal writings, e.g. the Book of the Secrets of Enoch. Secondly, why there is the astounding silence over biographical - or chronological - details about Jesus' life until ca. 90 CE. Paul, in the period before this time, never invokes his words when they would be invaluable in supporting his argument, and this is not only with Paul, but also elsewhere, e.g. l Peter. The authors of Romans l3:l-3 and l Peter 2:l3-l4 certainly couldn't have been aware of the story of Jesus appearing before Pilate in view of what they say. This silence continued over into the end of the 1st century; in fact when the author of 1 Clement wrote, he seems to suffer from the same problem as Paul and others - total ignorance about Jesus and the Gospels; obviously as is so clearly demonstrated, Christians always used scripture or suchlike to support any argument they were making, so is it somewhat bizarre that Clement does not do this. In chap. 3-6 he lists Abel, Joseph, Moses and David as examples of people who suffered through jealousy - but surely Jesus would have been the ideal example of this - Matthew 27:l8/Mark 15:l0??? When he speaks about people preaching repentance in 7-8, he uses Ezekiel and Isaiah as examples - but again surely Jesus would have been the ideal example to use - Luke 13:3,Matt l8:3? In 9-l2 he lists examples of faith - but yet again they're all OT and fails to give any Gospel example that would be more fitting.

In l6 he refers to Jesus' humility and one would expect a reference to his humble birth in a stable, but instead he quotes from the Old Testament again (Isa. 53). In chap l7 he speaks about those dressed in animal skins who announce the coming of Christ. Surely John the Baptist (Matt. 3:4)? however he lists the Old Testament prophets Elijah and Ezekiel. And so it goes on......

It is very clear that although the Gospels emerged in the last decade of the 1st century AD, they took a long, long time to be circulated and/or accepted which is strange if they are accurate reports of Jesus' life. With regard to the eyewitness testimony for Jesus' existence, there is certainly a problem. It is amazing that anything up to 70(100?),000 people saw Jesus, but no one made an eyewitness record of it. Mark was obviously not an eyewitness due to his host of errors concerning chronological, historical, geographical, and theological matters in 1st century Palestine; Matt. and Luke have to use Mark as their base (which they obviously wouldn't have needed to do if they were eyewitnesses) and in John (Which even the church only hesitantly accepted into the canon) reports things that couldn't have happened e.g. Jesus' speech about drinking blood to a Jewish audience in John 6; it has to be rejected if the Synoptics are accepted as it conflicts with them, e.g. his dating of the Temple-clearing and the last supper etc in relation to the Passover. He also reports situations e.g. expulsions from the synagogue (l6:2) that didn't occur until after 90 CE (i.e. Rabbi Gamaliel II's official cursing prayer of the 'Minim' in ca. 90 CE). In the case of Paul, he gives virtually no detail about Jesus' earthly life, other than he was a descendent of David, was crucified and was raised by God. If Romans, a genuinely Pauline letter, and the longest, is examined to discern Paul's reference to Jesus' earthly life, the silence becomes most apparent:

    1. Jesus was a Jew/descended from David (l:3, l5:8,12);
    2. Jesus was human (8:3);
    3. His blood was shed (3:25, 5:9);
    4. Jesus suffered/died/was crucified (5:6,8,10,l5;6:3,4,5,6,8, 8:l7, l4:l5);
    5. Jesus rose from the dead (l:4, 4:24,25, 6:4,5,9,l0, 8:ll,34, l0:7,9, l4:9).

As can be seen, the same few details are repeated over and over again; in the letters that are genuinely accepted as being written by Paul there is no specific reference to the parents of Jesus, and certainly not a virgin birth; his place of birth or the area in which his ministry took place is not mentioned either; 'Of Nazareth' is never used; the details Paul supplies give no indication whatsoever of the time or place of Jesus' earthly existence.

Paul never refers to Jesus' Roman trial, and in fact he does not appear to even know who crucified Jesus - in l Cor. 2:8 he refers to the death of Christ by 'rulers of the age' - this hardly fits a tin pot prefect called Pilate; this term really denotes supernatural spirits - 2 Cor. 4:4, Col. 2:l5*. Paul never refers to Jerusalem as the place of Jesus' execution and never mentions John the Baptist, nor Judas, nor Peter's denials (This would have been quite pertinent in combating Cephas/Peter at Antioch - Gal. 2:ll-l7. Paul's position was apparently being threatened by Peter and despite calling him a hypocrite, he does not allude to his three denials of Jesus, as recorded in the Gospels, e.g. Mark l4:30 par). The only chronological reference to Jesus in the Pauline corpus is in l Tim. 6:13 and this letter is widely accepted as post-Pauline. Furthermore it appears to be a non-Pauline insertion from a baptismal creed. (Although some argue that Paul's reference in l Thess. 2:l4-l5 shows he knew that the Jews crucified Christ (this of course is incorrect - the Romans did), this reference is clearly to God's vengeance on the Jews and the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE - therefore it has to be an interpolation as l Thess. was written ca. 55 CE; however insistence that Paul wrote this statement originally would preclude Paul being the author as it would have to be after 70 CE, but Paul died before this date.

Paul also fails to mention any of the miracles Jesus is reported to have accomplished in the Gospels; Paul suggests that miracles might be expected wherever a Christian mission went, for he includes the working of them among 'the gifts of the Spirit' (l Cor. 12:l0,28) and himself claimed to have won converts by 'the power of signs and wonders' (Rom. l5:l9).

Among the signs of a true apostle, he lists 'signs and wonders and mighty works' (2 Cor. 12:12); the striking feature is that he fails to mention that Jesus is reported as having done on an extensive scale in his earthly life. Another striking feature is that whilst the Synoptic Gospels portray Jesus as an ethical teacher, there is no suggestion of this in Paul's letters; Paul is certainly not indifferent to ethical problems and on several occasions his letters contain a sizeable amount of ethical instruction. On only one occasion does he represent Jesus as having made an ethical injunction and this is in l Cor. 7:l0 when Paul discusses the subject of divorce. The Gospel 'parallel' to this is Mark l0:ll-l2 (Matt is simply following Mark), but there is a difficulty even here as some reject this is authentic as Jesus refers to women divorcing their husbands - something that was not possible in Palestine.

Some say the statement was assigned to Jesus through Paul quoting a Christian prophet (himself?) through whom the risen Lord was speaking and it was then utilized by the author of Mark who placed it in the mouth of Jesus whilst on earth, but was careless in not realizing that its context was Gentile rather than Palestinian. It is clear from such early Christian writings as the Didache that as late as the end of the first century Christian prophets were viewed as being channels of communication for the risen Lord. Paul was content to suffer weakness, insults, humiliation, persecution and hardship (2 Cor. l2:l0) adding that he entreated the readers by the 'meekness and gentleness of Christ' (2 Cor. l0:l). He stated that he imitated Christ (l Cor. ll:l) and that his whole existence was 'to know nothing....except Jesus Christ and him crucified' (l Cor. 2:2) and then goes on to say he was with his readers in 'weakness, much fear and trembling' (l Cor. 2:3).

If this is Paul's 'imitation' of Christ, then it is a far cry from the Jesus of the Gospels and particularly the picture of Jesus portrayed in John. It appears Paul thought Jesus led a humble inconspicuous life that went completely unnoticed by the world. Other situations arise in Paul's writing that suggest knew very little about Jesus' supposed earthly life. He clearly was unaware of Jesus' command not to go to the Gentiles (Matt. l0:5) in Rom. ll:l3, and in Rom. 8:26 he states 'for we do not know how to pray as we ought' suggesting he knew nothing of Jesus instructions of how to pray in Matt. 5:7-l3, Luke ll:l4; the instructions regarding baptism by Jesus in Matt. 28:l9 were also apparently unknown to Paul (l Cor. l:l7).

The person of Paul was that of someone who believed that God was now revealing secrets or mysteries; these term arise frequently in Paul's letters, e.g. l Cor. 2:7, l3:2, l4:2, l5:51, with 'revealed' or similar arising frequently also, e.g. Rom. l:l7,l8, 8:l8, l6:25, l Cor. 2:l0,l3, 3:l3, 2 Cor. 12:l. Paul believed that he had seen the risen Jesus (l Cor. l5:8) and he had spoken directly to him (2 Cor. l2:8-9); he had experienced ecstatic states (2 Cor. l2:l-4, l Cor. l4:l8) and God was now revealing previously hidden information (1 Cor. 2:l0,12-13, 7:40).

A question therefore arises, did Paul's rather scant knowledge about Jesus arise through his belief that the risen Lord was now communicating with and through him, along with other Christian prophets, or from information gleaned from earthly companions and eyewitnesses of the earthly Jesus. One passage in which Paul clearly refers to a historical event in Jesus' earthly life, i.e. the last supper, is 1 Cor. 11:23-26. However even this passage begins "For I received from the Lord...." and again, suggests this information was transmitted directly from the risen Christ, rather than from the apostles.

An inevitable question arises, why this should be, as Paul had met the apostles (Acts 9:27, Gal. 1:18-19, 2:2,9) and would have been given this information by them - that is of course if these apostles had in fact accompanied the earthly Jesus rather than being as Paul, Christians receiving information direct from the heavenly Lord, but that is what the situation appears to have been.

Reference to Jesus' resurrection, rather than his earthly life appears in l Cor. l5:3-8, when Paul lists the resurrection appearances (apparently in chronological order); these bear no resemblance to the Gospels and reference to an appearance to 'all the 12' whilst Matt. report Judas', suicide again suggests lack of information; his mention of an appearance to five hundred brethren at one time (l5:6) is quite extraordinary as it would be inexplicable for the Gospel writers to have omitted this event if they had known of it. The empty tomb, nor Jerusalem itself is ever mentioned by Paul; his several visits to Jerusalem, recorded in both Acts and Gal. surely would have brought him into contact with the empty tomb; the failure to mention the empty tomb, which surely would have had great significance for Paul due to his preoccupation with Jesus' death and resurrection, may have been due, unlike the Gospels reporting a physical resurrection, to a belief in Jesus being raised as a spirit (l Cor. l5:44,45,50). The l Cor. l5:3-8 passage does not link Jesus to any specific historical time; it simply reports that he died, was buried, was raised, and had appeared to a number of people alive in Paul's time. There is no suggestion whatsoever that these appearances occurred immediately after his death/resurrection. Whilst the Gospels have Jesus appearing as a resurrected physical human being to his apostles and Acts having Jesus appearing in a totally different form to Paul (after his ascension), there is no such suggestion here; Paul does not differentiate in any way between the earlier appearances in l Cor. l5:3-7 and the one to him (l5:8). It appears from this that he believed all those listed in l5:3-7 had experienced the same vision as he had done - they are certainly not made to be companions of Jesus in his earthly life and Paul appears to think of the others who are listed as experiencing a supernatural vision as he had done. The reason for Jesus now appearing was apparently because of the approaching end which was imminent (l Cor. 7:29, l5:23-24, l Thess. 4:14-17, etc, etc).

Examples of Paul's failure to invoke Jesus' words are:

    • Rom. 2:l,l4:l3/Matt. 7:l, Luke 6:37
    • Rom. l2:l4,l7/Matt. 5:44, Luke 6:38
    • Rom. l3:9,Gal. 5:l4/Matt. 22:39-40, Mark l2:31, Luke l0:27
    • Rom. l3:6/Mark l2:l7
    • Rom. l4:l4/Mark 7:l8-l9
    • l Cor. l5:35-55*/Mark l2:25
    • l Thess. 4:9/John l5:l7

* In l Cor l5, Paul uses the OT rather than Jesus' statements in the Gospels i.e. l5:45 (Gen. 2:7), l5:54 (Is. 25:8) and l5:55 (Hos. l3:l4). Paul argues that the 'spirits of this age' will be put down at Christ's second coming (l Cor. l5:24-25) - he appears to be ignorant of the fact that spirits were overcome by Jesus in his earthly life (e.g. Mark 3:ll) and furthermore this was when Satan himself was judged and cast out (John 12:31).

Furthermore there seems to be no pagan evidence for Jesus' existence either. Reference to his existence doesn't occur until well into the second century and even then the writers seem to be merely repeating Christian statements about Jesus (e.g. Tacitus in 120 CE). What is really striking is that the same ignorance about Jesus' earthly life is found in most other NT writings, e.g. in l Pet., readers are told to love one another, have unswerving faith and put away malice - but the writer never quotes Jesus' words in the Sermon on the Mount - instead he quotes the Old Testament.

With regard to Paul and the origins for Jesus, it does seem that Jesus' 'teachings' overall were borrowed from the OT and occasionally elsewhere. It does also seem that messages received 'from the risen Lord' by Christian prophets in trance fed back into Jesus' earthly life. The Didache, a Christian writing of ca. 1st century (probably from Syria) writes of Christian prophets: "Welcome them as the Lord... Every missioner who comes to you should be welcomed as the Lord.... While a prophet is uttering words in a trance, you are on no account to subject him to any tests or verifications - this is the sin that shall never be forgiven.......They exhibit the manner and conduct of the Lord.....".

Here it can be seen these prophets were treated with the same respect as Jesus himself; what they said was treated as coming direct from Jesus and was not to be questioned. Furthermore this feature is found elsewhere, e.g. B.E. Beck (Senior Tutor and Methodist minister, New Testament Studies, Wesley House, Cambridge), in his Reading the New Testament Today, "....Sayings attributed to Jesus in the gospels were used by Christians without acknowledgement, but the possibility cannot be ruled out that the reverse process has occurred - maxims in general use, from whatever source, have been mistakenly attributed to Jesus, e.g. Matt. 6:34, 7:6. Apparently Christian prophets spoke in the name of the risen Lord, that is, on his behalf. Were such sayings treasured as those of the earthly Jesus? Was any real distinction made between them when both were felt to express the mind of the Lord who had now risen and was still acting through his church?

If the distinction was not sharply drawn, what was to prevent a saying of the Lord, delivered through a prophet, being attributed to the Lord in his earthly ministry ?...". Much the same thing is said by Ernest Best (Professor of Divinity and Biblical criticism, University of Glasgow) in his book, 1 and 2 Thessalonians. As Paul and indeed other NT writers say little or nothing about Jesus' earthly life and Paul's knowledge of him appears to have come directly through revelations and ecstatic states (See 2 Cor. ll:1, Gal. l:12); at the end of the day it appears that Paul and a few others* believed there were getting messages from the crucified and now-risen Christ who had lived on earth 'sometime in the past' and was now revealing himself as the close of the age dawned (See l Cor. 7:29, l0:11).

* Note how the post-resurrection appearances listed in l Cor. l5:5-8 (which flatly contradicts the Gospels) does not differentiate between the appearances to those listed in l5:5-7 and the one to Paul, but in fact the Gospels and Acts have Jesus' appearances to some of those in l5:5-7 in a physical body and before his ascension, but to Paul it was a wholly different experience, i.e. a blinding vision (e.g. Acts 9:3-5), but the way in which the l Cor. l5 list is worded certainly suggests that Paul believed the others who had seen the risen Lord experienced it in the same way he did - i.e. by direct revelation. He seems to know nothing of any idea that they had ever seen the earthly Jesus.

It is necessary to comment on the argument that proposes that as Josephus and Tacitus, both non-Christians, refer to Jesus, this surely proves he was a historical personage.

These references are very brief fleeting statements concerning a Jesus by (1)Josephus (XVIII, 3.3), ca. 95 CE and (2)Tacitus (anals. xv, 44) ca. 120 CE. However with regard to these, it must be asked, (1)Josephus. (i) Why do no Christians up to the 4th century refer to Josephus' priceless remark that 'Jesus was the Christ'? (ii)Why does the Christian apologist Origen (l85-254 CE) state categorically that Josephus did NOT believe that Jesus was the Christ in view of the statement that calls Jesus by this very title? (iii)How could a strict Pharisaic Jew make such a statement? (iv)Why is it written in the same style as Luke? Surely this suggests rather than being written by Josephus it was taken from this Gospel? (v)Why does it look like an insertion in the narrative and appears to interrupt the flow, not following on from what is said before and not leading into what is said afterwards? (vi)Why doesn't Josephus say more about Jesus if he did really believe 'he was the Christ'? (vii)How it is that a whole host of eminent Christian theologians/scholars who firmly believe in Jesus' historicity reject the passage? (viii)Why should this be genuine when other copies of Josephus' Antiquities have been discovered that are heavily interpolated with Christian references? (ix)The very fact that it does appear to be a Christian interpolation surely suggests there was a problem, as why should Christians feel there was a need to even do this?

(2)Tacitus. It is never clear why this is even referred to; this was written nearly a century after Jesus' supposed existence - it is hardly 'contemporary'. If he is quoting a historical fact, then why does he make the same error that Christians also made about Pilate, i.e. calling him a procurator when really he was a prefect. Trilling - an orthodox Christian - comments that Tacitus was saying what 'could have reached him from any educated contemporary' and 'is no more than what could be learned anywhere in Rome'. In fact when Pliny wrote to Trajan (ca. 117 CE) he admits that his information about Christians came through actually questioning Christians - not by using any historical record or common knowledge. Tacitus is undoubtedly doing the same. Tacitus does not refer to Jesus as 'Jesus' but 'Christ' - i.e. the title ('Anointed/Messiah') that Christians gave Jesus. He could have hardly found this reference in any records he consulted (which would have therefore read:- 'We executed the Christ today'!). Again it is obvious he is only repeating what he had heard Christians believed.

The situation is adequately summed up by Professor Fuller, Professor of New Testament, Union Theological Seminary, New York. (A Critical Introduction to the New Testament): "Of the 27 books of the New Testament only the authentic Pauline epistles are, strictly speaking, the testimony of an apostolic witness. And even Paul... was not a witness of the historical Jesus. Since the earliest witnesses wrote nothing... there is not a single book in the New Testament which is the direct work of an eyewitness of the historical Jesus..." (page 197).

5.      The authors of the Gospels

It is very apparent that the Gospel writers were NOT Palestinian Jews and in the case of Mark's author there has to be doubt whether he had even set foot in Palestine in view of the historical, chronological, geographical and theological errors he makes a bout first cent. Palestine. But this is where it continues to be manifestly absurd. Jesus was supposedly a true Jew - a direct descendent of Abraham through David (Matthew 1), the Jewish Messiah, the Son of David (Matt. 21:9), the 'lion of the tribe of Judah' (Rev. 5:5) and yet whenever he quoted the OT, he quoted the GREEK LXX version! Furthermore, in some cases the Hebrew original of the LXX text he is quoting would not support the argument he is making because of the LXX's inaccuracies. In Mark 7:1-23 Jesus does this, but although it seems the LXX would support the point Jesus is making to the Pharisees, the Hebrew original would not. So we are asked to believe that Jesus - a true Hebrew Jew - chose to use the Greek translation of the OT, and furthermore, was unaware of the fact that he was using a passage that in reality was defective and the original would say something completely different, and be quite inappropriate for his argument, but also, according to the Gospels, he floored his orthodox Jewish opponents with this - a mistranslation of their own scriptures - and they didn't challenge this!!! The fact is, therefore, Jesus could not have spoken what the Gospels reports, and such sayings are put into his mouth by the Gospel writers who being ignorant of Hebrew made their handiwork obvious. The same applies with James (supposedly Jesus' brother) in Acts 15 - he uses the LXX to support his argument, although again, the Hebrew original says something quite different and would not support his argument, and yet all the Jews in the audience didn't comment on this !!!

6.      Conclusion

The situation is adequately summed up by Professor Fuller, Professor of New Testament, Union Theological Seminary, New York. (A Critical Introduction to the New Testament): "Of the 27 books of the New Testament, only the authentic Pauline epistles are, strictly speaking, the testimony of an apostolic witness. And even Paul...was not a witness of the historical Jesus. Since the earliest witnesses wrote nothing...there is not a single book in the New Testament which is the direct work of an eyewitness of the historical Jesus..." (page 197, Unfortunately, where I picked this up, I do not recall). 


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