A serialization of the book, The Plain Truth About God.
Chapter 9. ONWARD CHRISTIAN SOLDIERS .
There has been much debate on why there are no early records of the sayings of Jesus.
It would be natural to assume that they would be preserved and handed down to us, and this would normally be the case, but remember the early Christians felt no need for either a biography of Jesus or a collection of his sayings.
They believed that the “Christ” event in history was the immediate prelude to the end of the world and final judgment of humankind.
Paul, in his epistles, wrote that the present generation, his own, would see the apocalypse.
In the Synoptic gospels, Jesus of Nazareth also claimed that the people around him would still be alive for the “Last Days.”
Anticipating the immediate end of the world at any moment, the early Christians felt no obligation to record the life or sayings of Jesus.
There was, after all, no future anticipated for this material.
These early Christians were more concerned with preparing themselves for the expected apocalypse and for spreading the truth of Christianity to as many people as possible before the end of history.
As a result, the life and sayings of Jesus circulated in an oral form through Christian teachers and public speakers.
This oral material included stories and sayings attributed to Jesus, but they did not exist in any systematic, organized, or universal form.
Teachers and speakers alike would use these sayings and stories to emphasize the particular occasion or subject. In other words, a public speaker would use a saying attributed to Jesus as an occasion to lecture or discuss some aspect of Christianity or morality with his audience.
What the speaker talked about largely determined what the speaker chose to remember about the life and sayings of Jesus.
The very first thing that needed to be accounted for was the death and resurrection of Jesus. The history of Jesus’ death (The Passion) and the resurrection are probably the oldest of the stories surrounding Jesus.
The early Christians, however, needed more than the Passion and the Resurrection to legitimize Christ as having Divine status.
Therefore, the early Hebrew teachers of Christianity turned to the prophetic and messianic tradition of Judaism and began to develop proofs of Christ’s divinity by aligning events in Jesus’ life with older prophecies.
This process also included configuring the humbly born Jesus of Nazareth to a descendant of King David through his father, Joseph, since the messianic prophecies were clear that the Messiah would come from the line of David.
This legitimizing process continued when the religion entered the Greek world.
The Greeks associated divinity with miraculous stories and miraculous birth. From here came the idea that Jesus of Nazareth was born of a virgin…….. even though the virgin birth of Jesus contradicted the placement of Jesus as a descendant of David through Joseph.
We also, dare I say it, have a major problem with the physical resurrection of Jesus. This we will discuss further when we have a look at St. Paul.
The Gospels, in spite of being a “product of their time,” and open to various revisions and alterations during their telling and eventual documentation, still came from a recognizable and firm historical reality.
This was a time of rebellion, political unrest, civil disobedience, and social discontent. It was also a time of religious questioning, and hopes and dreams for the arrival of a new King.
It was a time where the anticipation of the arrival of a new Messiah reaches a fever pitch verging on mass hysteria.
It was a time where the political freedoms of Judea were brutally extinguished by the two wars of A.D. 66-74 and again A.D. 132-135 that led to the destruction of Massada.
The Gospels were the first attempts in early Christianity to come up with a coherent picture of the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth.
During and after this time there was a wholesale destruction of written records and documents, including, no doubt, the first few gospels of Mark, Matthew, Luke, and even John.
The earliest of these documents, Mark, seems to have been actually composed during the revolt of 66-74 or shortly after.
Although not one of Jesus’ original disciples, Mark (whoever he was) was a disciple of Paul and his Gospel bears an affinity to Pauline thought.
Mark is the shortest of the Gospels and shows the greatest familiarity with Jewish life and thought.
The later gospels, however, show increasingly less familiarity with the Jewish context of Jesus’ life and mission until we come to the last gospel whose author is totally uninterested in that context.
All of the authors of the gospels show some unfamiliarity with Palestinian geography which indicates that they were written by non-Palestinians, either Jewish or Greek.
Mark seemed to be a native of Jerusalem, and as Clement of Alexandria stated many years later, the document (as well as Paul’s epistles) was composed in Rome, and addressed to a Greek-Roman Audience.
Judea and Galilee had recently been in open revolt against Rome. Thousands of Jews were being crucified for their rebellion against the state, just as Jesus had.
If Mark wanted his Gospel to survive and impress a Roman Audience, he could not possibly present Jesus as being politically oriented, let alone anti-Roman!
In order to ensure the survival of his message, he would have to exonerate the Romans of all guilt for Jesus’ death and blame the “death of the Messiah” on certain Jews who were against his teachings because Jesus challenged the existing power structure. This was the start of the myth that the Jews were responsible for the death of Jesus.
About a decade later, the authors of Matthew expanded Mark’s gospel, this time also using “Q” and other traditional material.
Five to ten years after this, the author of Luke-Acts (a two-volume work produced by the same person) also published his own revised and expanded version of Mark, again using “Q” and even more traditions about Jesus.
As Christian teachers moved into different communities, it had a couple of results.
First, they would find need for different parts of the tradition for different circumstances.
Second, the long period of oral transmission and the decentralized way in which the stories and sayings were distributed indicate that many of these were distorted, or even made up whole-cloth, to suit particular needs.
This has led some scholars to assert that, even if there was a historical Jesus, his life and teachings are permanently lost to history.
In spite of this, there is a remarkable consistency to the teachings and actions of Jesus of Nazareth. (Except those contained in John)
This lends tremendous credence to the Christian belief that the fact of a historical Jesus is not only proven, but that he is the Jesus of the Gospels.
Therefore, it would be a fair bet to assume that Jesus was an actual historical figure who had great influence on his peers and times. As for his teachings, they have to be looked at not only by what he said, but also by what his actions portrayed.
There is much truth to the saying “Actions speak louder than words!”
The truth probably lies somewhere between the scholarly belief in the unreliability of the gospels and the Christian belief in them as an infallible, literal portrait of Jesus.
Most Christians would say that their religion is based on the teachings of Jesus, in words divinely inspired to men who wrote the New Testament.
But, the first books of the New Testament all came from one man, Paul of Tarsus.
The books were later rearranged to take some of the emphasis off Paul, but it is impossible to deny that he was the primary architect of what would become Christianity.
Paul of Tarsus, or Saint Paul, is the person most responsible for the spread of Christianity. Without Paul, Christianity may have well died as an obscure apocalyptic Jewish sect.
Paul wrote up to about half of the New Testament. His influence on the bible is hard to discount.
Many Christians will tell you that his words were God inspired, so it doesn’t matter who actually penned them, or when.
If that is true, it doesn’t explain the myriad contradictions between the ideas of Paul and the rest of the bible.
Paul knew little of the actual life and history of Jesus, and most likely never met him. What mattered to Paul was the resurrected Christ and his soon to be expected return.
Paul was very apocalyptic and believed the return of Christ to be imminent, and preached so.
In his letters and writings that became part of the Christian New Testament, Paul put forth much of the doctrine followed by Christians today.
Paul had very stern things to say when it came to matters of home life, including husband wife relationships and sexuality. He wrote that a woman “may not teach or have authority over a man” although Jesus never said that.
He also railed against homosexuality, another subject not mentioned by Christ.
Paul may well have been the first popular Christian homophobe!
One of the most important differences in the teachings of Paul, as they differed from what other Christians at the time were teaching and learning, was the doctrine of salvation through grace.
Essentially, Paul taught that the lost are forgiven through the grace of God, not through any works.
This has come to be an excuse where individual Christians and Churches separate themselves from the teachings of Jesus. Instead of living a life that helps others, Christians were able to free themselves from the heavy responsibilities for their brothers that Jesus taught, and instead put all the responsibility on Christ’s resurrection.
But, however you come down on Paul himself and how he related (or manufactured) Christian doctrine, his influence throughout the Mediterranean and the Mid-East cannot be denied.
He dedicated a good portion of his life to traveling throughout the area, converting Gentiles to Christianity.
Churches that he started grew until Christianity overtook the Pagan traditions and eventually led to their demise.
In spite of Christianities triumph over the unbelievers, remember a very important fact! Jesus never personally claimed to be conducting his ministry to “erase man’s sins,” just as he never claimed to be Divine himself.
Jesus constantly referred to himself as the “son of God,”—just as we all are!
TOMORROW: Will the Real Jesus Please Stand Up!
Allan W Janssen is the author of the book The Plain Truth About God (What the mainstream religions don't want you to know!)
and is available at the web site www.God-101.com Visit the blog "Perspective" at http://God-101.blogspot.com
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