Sunday, June 14, 2015

The Gospels And Jesus' Existence

Question: Can we get anything out of the Gospels concerning the existence of Jesus, even though it is generally accepted that they are the works of religious propaganda?

AP: I think so. The same remodeling and reinterpretations of the figure of Jesus made by the authors of the Gospels tell us that they are trying to modify and present the life of a real person, meshing his ideas with their own, with some slight differences. In other words, they idealize and deify a real figure, but they don't do so to his whole person. For example, they present a Jesus who is ignorant of when the the end of the world will come, or making mistakes in his prophecies about the end.

If the Gospel writers had invented the myth of Jesus directly, there would be no difference between real Jesus and the Christ of faith who is proclaimed by the Gospels themselves. The two would be exactly the same.

In other words, the differences between the two paintings of Jesus–the real one, shown as a mere man, and the one of faith, shown as God–would not exist if the figure of Jesus was a pure invention, a literary myth of the early Christians. They would have always painted Jesus as God, and they would have done a more consistent job.

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TWH: If you are looking for evidence that Jesus existed, the Gospels give you such evidence. I sometimes hear people question the historical value of the Gospels. They are historical and they have great (I would say the greatest) historical value.

Of the four portraits of Jesus' life, three are very, very similar. We call those the Synoptic Gospels. John contains quite a bit of material that is not included in those three, for example, the encounter with the woman at the well and the events filling in the last night of Jesus' life. These Gospels have their own historical contexts and literary purposes. All of them present Jesus as he was, and all of them present Jesus as God in the flesh.

Did Jesus know about the end of all things? Of course, he did. He knew what he shared with his disciples in what is called the "Olivet Discourse" (Matthew 24; Luke 21; and Mark 13). There's been no lack of discussion on the information found in that large teaching discourse. What Jesus does not answer is the timing of when that will take place. In other words, he does not disclose the exact year and date of when the events in Matthew 24 will transpire. Acts 1:6-8 reads:
"So when they had come together, they were asking him, saying, 'Lord, is it at this time you are restoring the kingdom to Israel?' He said to them, 'It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by his own authority; but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth."
The exact timing is fixed by the Father. I wouldn't call that a picture of Jesus not being God. I'd say that is a pretty good example of how Jesus focused his disciples on the mission at hand. The parallel, by the way, between what we read in Acts 1:6-8 with what we see in Matt. 13:10-11 is pretty interesting. It was given for the disciples to know the secrets of the kingdom, according to Matthew 13. According to Acts, it is not given for them to know the exact date of the kingdom. There are some secrets that you just don't share.

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