(Original title: Orthodoxy, Heresy and Jesus, I)
So-called “orthodox” Christians maintain that the rest of us are obligated to accept the biblical Gospel accounts as literal “flesh and blood” history. And if we refuse, then we are called “heretics” and we are condemned because of our supposed unbelief and wrong doctrine. According to the “orthodox” crowd, the rest of us are all going to “Hell” if we don’t read the Bible and believe in Jesus in just the right way.
Orthodox Christians hold up the Four-fold Gospel tradition of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John as an infallible record of the Advent of Jesus, his ministry, and his resurrection. If the rest us do not hold these “witnesses” as infallible evidence of Jesus’s fleshly incarnation then we are condemned by these very sources, as if they are witnesses against us. Indeed orthodox Christians use these Gospels as witnesses in order to convict and condemn all non-believers.
Any reasonable person would be justified in not accepting the testimony of the Four Gospel Witnesses, because these witnesses give conflicting testimony on the events in question. Certainly, they all claim that Jesus is the Christ and Son of God. But the problem is that the Four Witnesses can’t get their story straight. Here is a list of examples:
1) Both Matthew and Luke say that Jesus was born miraculously from a virgin. Both Mark and John omit this incredible ‘fact.’ (Mt. 1:18-20, Lk. 1:34-35, Mk. ?, Jn. ?)
2) Matthew says that Jesus was born in a house in Bethlehem (Mt. 2:11). Luke says that Jesus’s parents were homeless in Bethlehem and there was no room at the Inn; thus Jesus was born in a stable and laid in a manger (Lk. 2:7).
3) Matthew says that Jesus’s family were residents of Bethlehem (Mt. 2:1, 11, 19-23). Luke says Jesus’s family were residents of Nazareth, and went to Bethlehem on account of the “census” (Lk. 2:1-4). Matthew says Jesus’s family later settled in Nazareth because Bethlehem was still too dangerous (Mt. 2:19-23). John does not affirm that Jesus was from Bethlehem (cf. Jn. 7:40-44).
4) Matthew says that certain “wise men” (“Magi”) came from outside Judea to visit baby Jesus (Mt. 2:1ff.). Luke says it was a group of local “shepherds” (Lk. 2:15).
5) Matthew says that Jesus’s parents took Him to Egypt to save Him from King Herod (Mt. 2:13). Luke mentions no command by Herod to slay the first-born; and says instead that Jesus’s family went to Jerusalem after the baby was circumcised (Lk. 2:21-24). There never was any threat from Herod.
It is amazing to me that these “Apostolic” witnesses do not contain a clear consensus on even the most elementary events of Jesus’s life. Why don’t the earliest Apostolic records tell the same story?
Similar problems are also found in the Gospel accounts of the ministry of Jesus. An example is where Matthew, Mark and Luke say that Jesus’s cleansing of the Temple occurred near the end of his ministry; whereas John says it was at the beginning. (Cf. Mt. 21:12-17, Mk. 11:15-17, Lk. 19:45-46, Jn. 2:13-25)
The Gospels also diverge on the concepts of mysteries and parables. Matthew, Mark and Luke claim that Jesus disclosed the “mysteries of the kingdom of heaven” to his Apostles, and spoke to everyone else in parables (Mt. 13:11, Mk. 4:10, Lk. 8:10). But in John, Jesus tells the Jewish High Priest that “I spake openly to the world…and in secret have I said nothing” (John 18:20). None of the parables contained in Matthew, Mark and Luke are found in John. Why? Was it because “John” actually rejected the parables as reported by the other witnesses?
The Gospels also diverge on Jesus’ position toward the Gentiles. Matthew reports Jesus to have said that He has come only for the “lost sheep of the House of Israel” (Mt. 10:5-6). Luke reports Jesus as saying that the “Law and the Prophets were until John” but that the preaching of the “kingdom of God” is for all people (Lk. 16:16).
Some of my readers (being influenced by ‘orthodox’ opinions) may cite the conclusion of Matthew as evidence that the latter Gospel is consistent with Luke. In Matthew 28:19 Jesus is reported to have said to his Apostles: “Go ye, therefore, and teach all nations.” Assuming that these words are from Jesus (and were not added later) we are then faced with the problem in Acts 10. Here “Peter” confesses that he has no knowledge of any commandment, or commission, by Jesus to preach to Gentiles: “Ye know how it is an unlawful thing for a Jew to keep company with one of another nation; but God has shown me that I should not call any man common or unclean” (Acts 10:28). In these words it is obvious that Peter (according to Luke’s testimony) had no knowledge of any command by Jesus to preach to gentiles as reported in Matthew 28:19. Who do we believe? Matthew? – or Luke?
Matthew and Mark report Jesus as warning about damnation and “Hell-Fire” and obviously these two Gospels report the one same tradition (e.g. Mt. 18:9, Mk. 9:47). Luke also mentions the concept of hell (Lk. 12:5). Yet, amazingly, no such doctrine is found in the Gospel of John or Paul’s letters. In these texts the word “hell” does not occur once. Why do John and Paul not report Jesus’ warnings about Hell as reported in Matthew, Mark and Luke? Could it be that these reports were not regarded as credible? Why is it that Paul never once warned the sinners in his churches that they might go to Hell?
(The fact that neither Paul nor John warned about “Hell” can be easily verified in Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance.)
There are many other examples of Gospel doctrine in conflict; but I think the examples above should be sufficient.
Finally, I want to mention the four Gospel accounts of Jesus’ resurrection (i.e. Mt. 28:1-10, Mk. 16:1-8, Lk. 24:1-11, Jn. 20:1-18). I urge my readers to read these accounts for themselves and note all of the conflicting details. The four witnesses claim that Jesus arose from the tomb. BUT THEIR STORIES DON’T MATCH; AND THERE ARE RADICAL VARIATIONS IN THE DETAILS. In my opinion the four resurrection accounts are a cruel joke.
The four Gospel Witnesses all claim that Jesus is the Son of God, who walked and taught among men, was crucified, died, and rose from the dead (all while supposedly in the flesh). On these basic assertions they agree. But when it comes to details, these witnesses cancel each other out on numerous key points on what is said to have occurred.
If our courts today were to use the Gospels as a legal standard, then truly there would be many more innocent people on Death Row. By a true legal standard the Gospels cannot be fairly used as a standard by which to judge people who do not accept the “Gospel” as factual, or as literal truth.
Next I want to address another important problem that is inherent in the orthodox tradition of Jesus.
To this day millions of Fundy Christians are awaiting the second Coming of Jesus, which will follow the fulfillment of lurid end time prophecies as found in Matthew 24 and in the Revelation of John. In anticipation of this fulfillment Fundy Christians are eagerly sending money and weapons to Israel in anticipation of the Armageddon war to come! This war will in turn be part of a chain of events that will culminate in the arrival of the glorified Christ! – Who will descend from the clouds, like lightening, unto the Mount of Olives!!
For many Christians, this is where the future is, and this is how our present problems will be solved. Fundy Christians need not be concerned about the fact that America is sinking into national bankruptcy, and into a cesspool of organized crime – because Jesus is coming soon to fix everything.
But what do the Scriptures really say? Is it really that simple? Celsus long ago ridiculed the Christians because of their self refuting-doctrines about Jesus. We are about to take a look at one of the most important examples.
I’ll begin by quoting the words of Jesus from some relevant Gospel passages:
“Truly, I say unto you, There be some standing here, which shall not taste death, until they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom.” (This was Jesus’ warning to his followers who failed to remain faithful. Cf. Mt. 16:24-26.)
The following words are from Jesus’ instructions to his Apostles as to what they should do when persecuted: “But when they persecute you in this city, flee ye into another: for truly I say unto you, Ye shall not have gone over all the cities of Israel, till the Son of man be come.”
(Note that in Mt. 28:19 Jesus commands his Apostles to “teach all nations” whereas in Mt. 10:5-6 he commands that they preach to Israelites only; and in 10:23 Jesus promises that they will not have gone through all the cities before the end comes!)
Next is the famous conclusion to Jesus’ End Time speech as alleged in Matthew 24:34-35,
“Truly I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled. Heaven and Earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.” (Emphasis added)
Any sensible person knows that none of Jesus’s promises or warnings have come to pass. And his words make it painfully obvious (for some – not me) that his promises and prognostications were intended for that generation and time to which he referred. The fact is, Jesus’s prophecies never came to pass, and by his own standard he has proven himself to be a false prophet (Mt. 24:24).
In spite of the clear print Fundy Christians continue to read these words in the belief that these events are going to happen in the near future. Are these people not deluded – if not insane? Even more frightening is that these people think that US foreign policy should actually be consistent with these delusional expectations. (If the American Settlers had thought this way the British would have reclaimed this land a long time ago.)
A similar disconnect among Fundies appears with the Revelation of John. Now, out of respect for Christians in general, I will acknowledge that, historically, many Christians have had the good sense to doubt and reject the Revelation of John as the trash that it is. This book is garbage. Eusebius reports the doubts of early Catholic leaders about the authenticity of the Revelation (Church History, 3.25.5, 3.28.1-5; see also Bruce Metzger, Canon of the New Testament, pg 209ff.). The fatal flaw of the Revelation of John appears in a couple of relevant passages:
“The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, to shew unto his servants the things which must shortly come to pass…for the time is at hand.” (Emphasis added).
Here are the words of Jesus to the Church at Thyatira: “But that which he ye have already, hold fast until I come. And ye that overcometh, and keepeth my works unto the end, to him will I give power over the nations: and he shall rule them with a rod of iron.”
Does the “church in Thyatira” even exist today?
Here again are the words of the angel to John, Revelation 22:6,
“These sayings are faithful and true: and the Lord God of the holy prophets sent his angel to shew unto his servants the things which must shortly be done.”
Let us note also the words of “Jesus” in Rev. 22:12 and 20 “Behold, I come quickly” and also “Surely, I come quickly.”
And finally, let us note the concluding words of “John”: “Even so, come Lord Jesus.”
I actually feel sorry for this guy. But should I feel sorry for people today who continue to obsess with the mysteries of the Revelation when the book shows itself to be obviously false?
The enigmatic passages quoted above reflected the end time expectations among some early Christians. They believed that the “end” would come and that Jesus would return by the end of their generation: just as Jesus was reported to have said. Thus Jesus was expected to return before the Apostles died. But what happened?
The book of 2 Peter is probably the earliest record of the crisis that the Christian movement experienced; which was the result of the failures of the end time prophecies as mentioned above. All the Apostles and fathers died, but Jesus never returned. A state of unrest began to prevail among Christians. The writer of 2 Peter warned about those who began to question the prophecies:
“Knowing this first, that scoffers shall come in the last days…saying, Where is the promise of his coming? For since the fathers fell asleep all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation.”
The author here betrays the fact that he is not really Peter. If Peter were still alive then there would be no reason for doubting: because Jesus promised Peter in Matthew that “this generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled.” (Mt. 24:34, cf. vs. 27-31) But obviously this writer, pretending to be Peter, can no longer quote Jesus as Holy Writ to solve this problem. Therefore our writer offers a new formula in Peter’s name:
“But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slack concerning his promise…” (2 Peter 3:8f.)
This isn’t what “Jesus” promised to Peter in Matthew…
One last point I’d like to mention is that the Gospel of John contains no endtime doctrine. Instead, Jesus tells his followers that he will depart, and send the Paraclete (Jn. 14:12, 16). He never tells his followers that he is coming back. Only at the very end of John is there some vague mention that Jesus will come back, but this idea is never explained (Jn. 21:22). Moreover, in John 3:3-8 Jesus explains to his followers that the kingdom of God is spiritual; the kingdom is not a physical reality or event as is described in Matthew 24, or in the Revelation of “John.” This is an example of why the Gospel of John was so popular among the Gnostics in ancient times. The concept of a “spiritual” non-physical kingdom is a Gnostic idea.
When these numerous biblical passages and issues are taken into account, it becomes obvious that so-called “orthodox” Fundy Christians really have no business pointing their fingers at anyone. Nor should they engage in sanctimonious talk about orthodoxy and heresy. Nor should these Christians dictate to the rest of us what the future will be, or how our government should interact with the Middle East.
And finally, in light of the issues I have discussed, it should be perfectly obvious that the Gnostics are justified in not believing in Jesus as a literal, physical person. Nor should the Gospels quoted above be interpreted as literal events. The Gospels contain teachings, not facts. Even if one chooses to admit that the Gospel of Jesus was real, then you must also face the fact that his prophecies were false. The combined testimony of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John does not prove anything in terms of facts. They cancel each other out.
I urge all my readers to look to the Gospels for insights; but seek the Truth within yourselves, as it is written in the Gospel of Thomas:
“Jesus said, If your leaders say to you, ‘Look, the (Father’s) kingdom is in the sky,’ then the birds of the sky will precede you. If they say to you, ‘It is in the sea,’ then the fish will precede you. Rather, the (Father’s) kingdom is within you and it is outside you. When you know yourselves, then you will be known, and you will understand that you are children of the living Father. But if you do not know yourselves, then you live in poverty, and you are the poverty.” (Gospel of Thomas, 3)
In part II of this series we will look at the contradictory theology of the New Testament Gospels and how this played into the hands of heretics who maintained that Jesus and the Apostles were under the influence of more than one god. –jw
By Jim West. Copyright © 2007, 2013. All Rights Reserved.