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.
The first (the literal) was described as simplistic and solely for the un-educated. The second (symbolic) was the use of parables to convey a deeper meaning, and third (spiritual) was to transcend the mortal plane and bring us closer to God.
Unfortunately at that time, as now, the un-washed masses cried out for a ready-made, simplistic, popular faith. A faith that can best be described as closer to a romance novel than any serious attempt at theology, history and philosophy.
This is also the reason that the "Resurrection" was proclaimed as the basis
This version of the "Faith," when combined with the Roman gift of organization and brute force, led to the "Christianity" that has been handed down to us. It seems to be the consensus among New Testament scholars that "Jesus" preached a message that teaches a way of behaving and living that applied to a first century reality.
However, the words of "Christ" are another matter. If the sayings and parables of "Christ" are examined closely with the purpose of separating those words that were actually uttered by "Jesus" from those that were later attributed to him, we see a vast difference in the context, meaning, and purpose between the two.
The sayings of "Christ" display a metaphorical and allegorical context that
suggest someone slightly removed from the everyday world.
The biblical words of "Jesus," however, were indeed a direct reflection of
their place and time. (Just as today, we are all products of our own time and age) The actual sayings of the historical "Jesus," which upon close examination shows only a handful of thoughts and parables, are so simple and basic, with such underlying truth, that they can be applied to the human condition of any age.
In his book "The Silence of Jesus," James Breech takes an in-depth and
impartial view of the words that have been attributed to "Christ," and compared these with the words that composed the core material said by the historical "Jesus."
According to Breech, all the thoughts attributed to Jesus, a collection of
eight sayings and twelve parables, can definitely be followed back to (The
Gospel of Q) and do not have the taint of something said by "Christ."
Modern day scholars would agree that these sayings, at least, are authentic.
They are remarkably free of the language and concepts of the early Christian movement, and show a purity of thought and concept, that upon close examination, reveals a simplicity and universal message not constrained by time or culture.
To truly understand the sayings that were uttered by the historical Jesus,
we must keep an open mind and not make assumptions, or at least keep them to a minimum. To do otherwise would be to fall into the same trap that ensnared the early "Christians." They created a body of work that first
collected, then glossed over and distorted the sayings of Jesus to provide a
basis for their own teachings.
One of the most basic assumptions that Breech examines is the concept of Christian "love" that forms the basis of most of the teachings of Jesus. Let me explain:
The foundation of Christian ideology revolves around "Love" for one and another. To understand this we need to define exactly how the term or meaning of "Love" is used when compared to (the small) love!!
In the first instance, there is the true "Love," which means it is rooted in
the power of the kingdom of God. This is the "Love" that the historical Jesus preached to his followers.
The second type of Christian "love" (small L) is defined solely as an ethical idea that was propagated by the spreading Christian faith in trying to define the words of Christ. Nietzsche probably best defined this form of
Christian 'love' as a masked feeling of pity or charity. In other words, we
feel sorry for others and from this superior moral ground, we lend a helping hand. Nietzsche claims that
Christian 'pity' (love) is a device used by those who are not themselves truly
vital and alive to obtain a perverse elevation of their own position by
In other words, "I can make myself feel better by thinking you or someone
else is worse-off and deserving of love." We often confuse the feeling of
Christian "love" for someone with:
- Pity for them.
- Humanitarianism-or a love of Mankind.
- Altruism, or self denial, and
- Sentimentalism, or wanting to be with others.
These concepts of "love" have been re-enforced over and over again through one story or another. What Jesus actually said was something more basic and infinitely harder to achieve. The historical Jesus did not urge us to
love humankind or to feel pity for someone else. He did not tell us to deny
ourselves for someone else's sake, or flagellate ourselves, or even to enjoy
What He did say was pure and simple and straight to the point, "Love one another!" This sort of Love is not the altruistic love of humanity, nor the possessive
love for our mate, but rather something that requires hard work, tenacity, and sacrifice.
It is easy to love your wife or husband, child or parent, but to Love your
neighbor (or stranger) is a task that is never ending and always requires effort. It is a Love that seems to have no immediate benefit and is therefore not practiced by many people. However, in the end, this is what will make Humanity rise up to it is potential and approach what Jesus referred to as the "Kingdom of God (The Father)."
This is not something that is to be expected in the near, or far, future. Rather, it was a state of being that is present at this time, and only has to be observed and followed in order to achieve a state of Grace.
One of the core sayings of Jesus was:
"The kingdom of God is not coming
with signs to be observed, nor will they say 'Lo, here it is!' or 'There!' For behold, that kingdom of God is in the midst of you."
Jesus tells us quite clearly that the "Kingdom of God" is not a coming kingdom, or a future kingdom, but rather something already in and amongst his disciples. It is not a place, but rather a state of mind!
To quote James Breech once more:
"Your concept of the kingdom of God, whether it belongs to the future
mythological conceived, in either eschatological or apocalyptic terms,
misses the reality of the kingdom. The symbolism really refers to a power
that is a basic factor in human experience!"
In the teachings attributed to Jesus, it is abundantly clear that he was an
apocalyptic teacher who believed that the world would end within the lifetime of the people to which he was speaking.
The foundation of these teachings was that human beings could be saved by both believing his word and by modeling their lives on the higher moral law of God. That higher moral law was the foundation of Jewish law.
To this end, he believed that Pharisaical teaching were an appropriate guide
to following this higher moral law: His criticism of the Pharisees was that they did not live by what they taught.
In line with this higher moral law, Jesus of Nazareth preached an ethics of
selfless concern for the welfare of others, rejection of material wealth, and non-retribution, all of which were standard in Jewish ethics. In his
statements, Jesus of Nazareth explicitly rejects government and politics as a legitimate sphere of human action.
The religion that he taught was an intensely individual religion. Righteousness, which means the performance of right actions, was not a quality of actions but rather a quality of the interior state of the individual. This was not really a break with the Jewish tradition, but it was the core of the way in which Jesus defined the human relationship with the Divine.
There is also abundant evidence in the Gospels that Jesus considered his teachings to be for Jews only. This is a curious tradition to maintain in the face of the massive spread of Christianity into the Gentile world. However,
nowhere does Jesus of Nazareth construe his teachings or the religion he is espousing as anything other than for Jews and in one place explicitly says that his mission is only to the Jews.
Ultimately, the Jesus who emerges from the gospels is concerned with preparing the Jews for the last event in history.
It is someone who actively preaches that human beings can enter individually
into a correct relationship with God. They can do this through faith and trust in God and through an active, ethical concern with both the material well-being and the suffering of others.
The Christian religion was at first, obviously, a Jewish religion. It was a
movement amongst the population in the immediate area of the land Jesus lived in. Its message aimed directly at a Jewish audience by Jews.
However, with the advent of the Prophet Paul the message changed and was geared towards a Gentile population that was eager for the "word" as well.
Onto this template, Paul of Tarsus would add a new emphasis - Jesus as a dead and risen God co-extensive with God. This developed into two branches, which we could call a Jewish Christian and a Pauline (Gentile) Christian.
They not only lived side by side, but also competed for the same converts.
It was not until the Romans suppressed an uprising by the Jews in 66 to 74 CE and again 132 to 135 CE that led to the destruction of
Massada, that the Pauline Christians gradually won out. They became the defenders of the faith
while the Jewish Christians were left by the wayside. (Actually in the
ashes of Massada!)
Copyright © by Allan W. Janssen
Originally posted: 2006-JUN-09
Latest update: 2006-JUN-09
Author: B.A. Robinson
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