Saturday, August 15, 2015

How Do We Know?

How do we know which accounts in the Bible are closest to what Jesus really taught? If we examine the four closely we notice something strange. They don't agree on many points. If we read each of the birth stories, we notice many differences and even the resurrection stories differ from gospel to gospel. And John is completely different and presents a more "spiritual" Jesus and so different from the synoptic gospels in that in John, Jesus declares himself "God".  In the synoptic gospels Jesus says he is not God. What witness can we accept? So what to we do?

We look at those other three sources and see what they all/or at least two agree on. That’s called checking the seven sources or pillars of scholarly wisdom. 

The first pillar is the distinction between the historical Jesus and the Christ of faith encapsulated in the first creeds. The second is realizing the first three gospels are much closer to the historical Jesus then the fourth gospel, which presented a “spiritual” Jesus. The third is recognizing that Mark is prior to Matthew and Luke and is the basis for them both. The fourth pillar is the identification of the hypothetical source “Q” as the explanation for the “double tradition”…the material Matthew and Luke have in common beyond their dependence on Mark. The liberation of the non-eschatological Jesus of the aphorisms and parables is the fifth pillar. The recognition of the fundamental contrast between the oral culture and a print culture is the sixth. The gospels are now assumed to be narratives in which the memory of Jesus is embellished by mythic elements that express the church’s faith in him, and in plausible fictions that enhance the story for first century listeners who knew about divine men and miracle workers firsthand. That's the seventh. 

At least they thought they did.

It was not unusual for the emperors of the day to declare themselves gods. The Greeks who preceded them and the Romans who followed them all had many gods. That's one reason why the very earliest Christians and even the Jews were tolerated.  They had just another god to add to those already declared gods.  It wasn't until they refused to also worship the Caesars that the persecution began.  

Also talented magicians were also around and they could perform what appeared to be miracles. So such miracles were also attributed to Jesus. 

It is realized that there are grains of reality in the synoptic gospels. For instance...Jesus' teaching of the Kingdom of God on earth...which got him crucified. 

People were challenged by Jesus to take care of one another. In their book, "Saving Paradise",  Brock and Parker note that for several decades following that teaching, the thing that drew people to Christianity in great numbers was their pledge to take care of the poor, sick and hungry. That was unheard of in that day.

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