Sunday, February 28, 2010


Jesus quotes from the Old Testament often. For example, "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God." (Deuteronomy 8:3 & Matthew 4:4) and "Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh." (Genesis 2:24 & Matthew 19:5)

Jesus is particularly fond of quoting from the Psalms. A few examples are "Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings" (Psalm 8:2 & Matthew 21:16), "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" (Psalm 22:1 & Matthew 27:46) and "The LORD said unto my Lord, Sit thou at my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool." (Psalm 110:1 & Matthew 22:44)

In fact, it's been estimated that 10 percent of the New Testament is composed of quotes from the Old Testament. The entire Gospel of Mark appears to be based on the Old Testament with little or no original material. Which raises the question, if Jesus had actually existed as a historical figure, why does Mark have to rely on the Old Testament so heavily? Why doesn't Mark know anything about Jesus outside the scriptures?

The Gospels of Matthew and Luke are both largely based on Mark, showing their ignorance of a historical Jesus is just as profound. (The Gospel of John appears to be a gnostic document which was rewritten to cohere with the synoptics.) However, Matthew and Luke contain material not found in Mark. Could this material be derived from an actual historical Jesus? First, let's take a look at the context in which this material appears.

Compare Luke 22:30 and Matthew 19:28. Luke places the phrase "That ye may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel" during the last supper, while Matthew places it during Jesus' passage into Judea.

"No servant can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon." In Luke (16:13), Jesus says this to the Pharisees after telling them the parable of the unjust steward. In Matthew (6:24), this is part of the sermon on the mount.

"And I say unto you, Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened." In Luke (11:9-10), Jesus says this after telling his disciples the parable of the friend at midnight. In Matthew (7:7-8), it's part of the sermon on the mount.

Since Matthew and Luke almost always put these sayings in different contexts, it's obvious Matthew wasn't based on Luke or vice versa. (We can also point out the contradictions between them, for example both give completely different genealogies for Jesus.) While Matthew and Luke are both based on Mark, they are independent of each other. So, how did similar sayings not found in Mark find their way into Matthew and Luke?

Scholars theorize that the sayings came from a now lost document known as Q (from the German Quelle which means "source"). The similar sayings found in Matthew and Luke but not in Mark probably came from a written source since the wording between Matthew and Luke is almost exactly the same, even if the contexts are wildly different.

So if Matthew and Luke are basically two different ways of combining Mark and Q together, what exactly is the nature of Q? Q was likely a sayings document similar to the gnostic Gospel of Thomas. In fact, Q and the Gospel of Thomas have 37 sayings in common (known as the Common Sayings Tradition or CST).

I'll examine where the sayings of Q could have come from in my next post.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

The Gospel Jesus

As I've already discussed in earlier posts, the references to Jesus found in the writings of pagan and Jewish historians are doubtful at best. Paul and the other Christian writers of the first century are completely ignorant of the life of Jesus with the possible exception of the crucifixion and they don't even agree with each other on the details of that. The only real evidence we have of Jesus existing as an actual historical person are the Gospels.

The Gospels were written some time between 70-130 CE. They were not eye witness accounts. This itself is a major strike against the historicity of Jesus, for if he were as important as the Gospels make him out to be, we'd expect someone to have written his story down sooner than that.

Historicists, those who believe that Jesus was based on an actual historical figure, claim that the Gospels were based on an oral tradition. However, if that's the case, why do they rely so heavily upon the Old Testament and provide so little original material?

The Gospels of Mark, Matthew, and Luke are so similar to each other, they're referred to as the synoptic gospels. When comparing the Gospels side by side, it's apparent that they copied from each other. Mark, being the shortest, was likely written first, since it's highly unusual for a story to get shorter rather than longer over time.

Mark was largely based upon the Old Testament. In fact, it reads as if someone went through the Old Testament, took every reference to the Messiah they could find, and combined them all together into a single narrative. The Jewish practice of combining scriptures together like this, known as midrash, was actually quite common at the time. Mark makes much more sense when viewed as a midrash than as an oral tradition that was written down.

Matthew and Luke both took the story of Mark and expanded upon it, adding additional events and sayings. It's obvious from the numerous contradictions between Matthew and Luke (for example, both give a completely different genealogy for Jesus) that they weren't aware of each other.

So if Mark, Matthew, and Luke are all ultimately derived from a single source, where did the gospel of John come from? John is quite a bit different from the synoptic gospels. In fact, it reads more like a modified gnostic gospel.

The gnostics were a group of early Christians, who some scholars believe actually predated Pauline Christianity. Their writings include such titles as the Gospel of Mary, the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Truth, the Gospel of Philip, and the Gospel of Judas. Many of their ideas can be found in the Gospel of John, however John appears to have been modified to fit the synoptic Gospels more closely, making it a hybrid document.

John didn't agree with the way Jesus was portrayed in the synoptics. He didn't like that Jesus showed moments of weakness, such as when he asked that the cup be passed from him:

And he went a little farther, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt. (Matt. 26:39)

John's version of Jesus carries his own cross, speaks up for himself in the presence of Pilot, and never wavers when it comes time to make his sacrifice.

Then said Jesus unto Peter, Put up thy sword into the sheath: the cup which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it? (John 18:11)

So even if the Gospel of John is largely divergent from the synoptics, that doesn't mean John was ignorant of them as he can be seen responding to them from time to time. There's no compelling evidence that any of the Gospels were based on oral tradition.

Jesus, if he had existed, would have spoken Aramaic and Hebrew, yet the writers of the Gospels didn't know Hebrew. They were all Greek speakers who quoted from the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament. In fact, the virgin birth, not mentioned in the Gospel of Mark, is based on a mistranslation from Isaiah.

Therefore the Lord Himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. (Isaiah 7:14)

The word translated above as "virgin" actually means "young woman" in the original Hebrew, but Matthew didn't know that:

Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us. (Matthew 1:22-23)