Stories of Jesus evolved!

The episodes of the Reasonable Doubts podcast aren’t being produced fast enough, so now I’m listening to ‘back issues.’

This one, titled “Which Jesus?” presents straightforward “redaction criticism” with respect to the gospels in the modern New Testament canon.

As the speaker, Jeremy Beahan, explains, the gospels are not merely inconsistent with each other. Each gospel is unique in terms of how it depicts Jesus.

  • The gospel of Mark has unique content that depicts Jesus as a misunderstood messiah.
  • The gospel of Matthew has unique content that depicts Jesus as the son of God.
  • The gospel of Luke has unique content that depicts Jesus as a rejected prophet and the savior of the world.

(Mark, Matthew and Luke are known as the synoptic gospels. There is strong evidence that Matthew is derived from Mark, and that Luke is derived from Matthew, with gaps of approximately 15 years between  editions. )

  • The gospel of John, which developed separately from the synoptic gospels, has unique content that depicts Jesus as God incarnate, “the Word of God,” “the Lamb of God,” etc.

Such discrepancies are typically shrugged off as just showing different facets of a complex person. But an objective study reveals the extent to which these depictions conflict with one another, as well as patterns in the ways that they conflict. For example, Mark shows Jesus as continually striving to keep his identity a secret, but Mark shows him as  freely declaring his identity and shows others (Jesus’ family, his disciples and even the wise men)  as acknowledging it. A person may have a ‘private side’ and a ‘public side,’ but it seems far-fetched that the same person would seek to be as famous as a governor and as anonymous as a government-protected witness.

If Mark came first and Matthew and Luke show signs of being knockoffs, then it would be reasonable to conclude that Mark is closest to the truth — however close or far that may be.

More important, the mere possibility that any of the gospels is a rewrite of an earlier gospel calls into question whether the modern Bible really must either be accepted in its entirety or be rejected in its entirety.  Does the whole Christian belief system really fall apart if one allows that some (or even all) books of the Bible may have been selected in error? If so, then I’d really like to know how the church (or, rather, the churches) got by for the first 330 years!


Posted on August 28, 2012, in Better explanations, Christian doctrine, Logic. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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