Jesus, a Historical Perspective
It becomes necessary to offer the reader some historical insight before presenting some of the suppositions in this chapter, because it needs to be demonstrated that the concepts, which so many hold dear today, are not as cut and dry as our religions would have us believe. Much of what is claimed dogmatically, and postulated in faith, has little, if any basis, in accurate historical foundations; yet alone, in the teachings of Jesus. While books such as the Bible are wonderful sources of inspiration, they are not, or were they ever intended to be, historical texts. It is not so much that the speculations of a particular faith are a lie; but rather, the omission of their true historical evolution leads present day Christians to attribute "Divine Authorship" to what amounts to human imaginativeness. There are also differences in the way a Jew, which both Jesus and Paul were, and gentiles viewed various terms in the sacred scripture. The "Son of God" is one such term that is explored in depth in the next section.
Ideas like, the Trinity; the Redemption; Original sin; that Jesus came to build a church; and numerous others: all have been developed in the minds of men over a period of centuries that are far removed from the life, times and actual teachings of Jesus. So much of existing religious ideology often resembles a kind of “putting the cart before the horse”; that is to say, many dogmas are claimed to be "proved" by reading scriptures; but, the scriptures are interpreted through the filter of the already existing belief. Far too often, what is believed today about our sacred stories would be totally alien to the people who wrote and read them. The problem this creates is that these self-created beliefs overshadow the messages and intents of the original writings. This, it seems, is where we stand with Jesus and the writings closest to him!
In reflecting upon Jesus' life and work, the eminent psychiatrist Carl Jung states about Christianity:
It is only natural that I should constantly have revolved
in my mind the questions of the relationship of the symbolisms of the
unconscious to Christianity, as well as other religions. Not only do I leave the door open for the
Christian message, but I consider it to be of central importance for
(C.G.Jung, MEMORIES, DREAMS, AND REFLECTIONS, ed.by: Aniela Jaffe, Vintage books, ã1963 Random House, page 210)
Ironically, if the Christian faith is not to "stand apart from the times," ultimately bringing wholeness to men, it needs to remove the filters of complexities; finding the simplicity as well as the pure intent of the teachings of Jesus. Its theology needs to recognize the priorities established by Jesus above its own speculations, assertions and self interest. This is why it becomes necessary to understand a bit of objective history about the life of Jesus, the times he lived in, and the men who came after him who have so influenced the perceptions of Jesus today. By understanding such things, we can remove some of the layers of religious doctrine, and begin looking at a renewed portrait of Jesus that is ultimately simple, free from bias, and very practical ¾ even in today's world.
First off, and historically speaking, there is a scholarly question as to whether Jesus ever really existed. As A.N. Wilson points out in his work Jesus a Life:
Those who believe that Jesus was an invented character, that he did not exist at all, are in a very small minority of New Testament scholars.
(ã1992 by author, page 57)
This work need not delve into this controversy, because an overall responsible approach toward theology has no relevance to that question. It is the teachings of Jesus that are important to a responsible Christian theology; and the "existence", or even the "nature" of this holy man has little if any bearing on those teachings. This statement is rooted in the observation that the recorded message and life of Jesus contained in the traditional Gospels, offer a sound theological, philosophical and psychological basis from which the human experience of living can be enriched and expanded upon. What this approach omits is the premise that Jesus came to establish an organized church, or that the gospels are accurate historical portrayals of the Son of God and his infallible teachings to humanity. There is just too much human influence in the composition of these books, an influence filled with the bias of the faith of the writers, for such dogmatic proclamations.
In reality, it should really make little difference to any responsible theology whether Jesus lived or not. Whether his life was fictional or real makes no difference because his effect upon our world is real, just as the effect of God is real whether He/She exists or not. The beauty of a responsible theology is that it survives the test of science, anthropology, and time; its guidance unaffected by questions to which no man can ascertain the answers for certain. The historical question of Jesus' existence has little bearing upon his teachings that are recorded in the Gospels. In fact, Jesus' historical existence only becomes germane if we claim he came to establish an organized church or deliver an external redemption, concepts which often overshadow the true message delivered by the Christ.
And if one is to look at theology in a responsible manner, seeing it as Jung put it, "in a new light, in accordance with the changes wrought by our contemporary spirit," the message of Jesus, as well as the example he showed, is far more significant than his existence or his nature! In so many cases, the message of Jesus, and the kingdom of the human heart he came to establish are lost because religions have replaced the message of Jesus with their own interpretations of that message.
It is not the intent here to challenge any faith in the Divinity of Jesus. Such, in itself, is not a bad thing. As already postulated the fact is not germane to a responsible approach toward the gospel message itself. The problem of Divinity only begins when worshipping the messenger is becomes more important than living the message, which seems to be the case for many Christian sects. In fact, such Divinity Doctrines are actually contradictory when they pronounce judgment upon others, claiming, one cannot be saved outside faith in Jesus’ Divine Nature --- as one of Jesus’ primary teachings was not to sit in judgment of others.
And while the purpose of this tract is not to resolve the question of Divinity (no one can do that no matter what is claimed), if it is to be objective and constructive we shall discuss how such a doctrine has evolved. It then becomes up to the individual to decide whether to believe if Jesus was God or just representative of God’s inspiration. Either way, his message is an important part of God’s revelation and can be used constructively in a Responsible theology.
What follows in this section, is presented as a necessary background. Its only purpose is to pave the way for approaching Jesus in a constructive and objective manner in today's world. It becomes necessary to understand the man of the myth* as recorded in the Gospels regardless of our personal faith. The Jesus of the Gospels was much more concerned with our interactions with one another than in what one proclaimed in their belief.
There can be no doubt that the historical Jesus, whose life the Gospels are based upon, must have been a truly unique individual. Jung points out in his work MEMORIES, DREAMS, AND REFLECTIONS:
It would be a serious misunderstanding to regard as "mere chance" that Jesus, the carpenter's son, proclaimed the Gospel and became the savior of the world. He must have been a person of singular gifts to have been able so completely to express and represent the general, though unconscious, expectations of his age. No one else could have been the bearer of such a message; it was possible only for this particular man Jesus.
The existing Christian Theology interprets Jesus as being Divine, a second person of the Blessed Trinity, and God incarnate; but this has no real basis in the words of Jesus that are contained in the four Gospels. In fact, Jesus himself actually tells us:
“… I do not care about my own glory.”
“Is it not written in your own law, ‘I said: you are gods’? THOSE ARE CALLED GODS TO WHOM THE WORD OF GOD WAS DELIVERED --- and scripture cannot be set aside.”
The fact is, that in all cases that are recorded in the Gospels, where Jesus is asked to explain his authority, his answers always point to a higher authority, or on a few occasions, become very ambiguous and subject to wide interpretations.
And the idea that Jesus came to fulfill the Old Testament Prophesies becomes another area of uncertainty. The writers of the New Testament were for the most part Jews, who new their scriptures well. While we may never be certain of this, perhaps, Jesus was portrayed to fit the prophesy; rather than, actually fulfilling it.
Objectively, one must also consider that Jesus does not even come close to fulfilling the Jewish concept of their messiah. And, many of the passages that are cited to confirm Jesus’ messiah ship are taken out of context, and not interpreted in the same manner as they would have been intended by their authors. The objective truth is that any practicing Jew can argue based upon accurate scripture how Jesus is not the promised messiah, yet alone, a Divine incarnation. This is the very reason the Christian ideology (in its present form) spread much faster to the gentile world than to the Jewish world.
The actual known history of Jesus starts with the writing of the four gospels. It is important for the readers, as well as the interpreters of these brief books to realize several important factors.
First, the immediate disciples of Jesus; Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John WERE NOT the actual authors of these books, as is the impression given by many of those who are preaching the so-called "Word" of God. These books were attributed to these evangelist at a much later date. Scholars believe that each of these gospels reflected "schools of thought" existing during a period in the later half of the first century, and emphasized a particular agenda for each of those schools of thought. In Matthew, for example Jesus emphasizes our actions; whereas, the emphasis in John is much more mystical. The archeologist John Romer, in his work "TESTAMENT" tells us:
The Four Gospels are not the writings of four men, but the products of different traditions, different churches, that had accumulated many of the same stories of Jesus and his life.
(p190, ã1988by author, Henry Holt & Co.)
And, Paula Fredrickson
Professor of 'The Appreciation of
What then must be borne in mind when reading the
canonical gospels for historical information about Jesus of
(Paula Fredrickson, FROM JESUS TO CHRIST, Yale University Press, ã1988, page4)©
Two, the gospels contain contradictions. A minor detail means a great deal more when one lays claim to Divine infallible truth. Such an example can be given. In Matthew and Mark's accounts of the discovery of the empty tomb, there is only one angel present; whereas, in Luke and John there are two. There are discrepancies in the accounts of the birth of Jesus. In fact, John and Mark make no mention of the event, and there are differing accounts of the crucifixion, which often cannot be reconciled.
Three, the gospels were written long after the death of Jesus. The earliest seemingly to be that of Mark between 55 and 70 AD1, followed by Matthew 83-87AD, followed by Luke in 85-90 AD, and finally John written at the end of the first century. While there may have been a gospel of Q, from which at least the synoptic gospels took form, the truly enlightened will keep in mind that the letters of Paul (49AD), and his influence on the developing Christianity, were actually written before the gospels that survive with us today.
Four, these works were hand copied for centuries with little control over the accuracy until the middle of the fourth century:
In the ages before printing when all texts were individually hand-written, it was extremely easy for the copyist working in the scriptoria to misread or misquote as they wrote. Through generations of such errors, mistakes, even of spelling or punctuation, could slowly deform the words of the text. Since ancient times, it had been recognized that perfect copies of sacred texts were essential. Scribes copying the Jewish Bible were obligated under Holy Law to use only the finest materials for their work and perfect exemplars from which to make their copy. But no such regulations had ever been impressed upon the Christian Churches, and by Cassiodorus' day (490-585 CE) there were endless variations and versions of Latin Bible Texts in circulation, including several different versions of Jerome's great Vulgate. The gathering together of all the Bible's text between a single set of covers to make one book ¾ a pandect, a single Christian Bible ¾ had not yet been done.
(John Romer, TESTAMENT, Henry Holt & Co., ã1988, page 250)
Five, there were many more gospels written than what we are familiar with today. In fact, it was the Church Father Irenaeus who reasoned that there should be only four based upon the following reasoning:
Irenaeus said that they were four [gospels] in number; like the four zones of the world, the four winds, the four divisions of man's estate, and the four forms of the first living creatures ¾ the lion of Mark, the calf of Luke, the man of Matthew, the eagle of John. Irenaeus' defense and definition of the canon of gospels soared like a hymn. And at a stroke, he had delineated the sacred book of the Christian Church.
(Ibid. page 201)
Consequently, many of the early existing Gospels by Christian authors, as well as many early Christian manuscripts, never got into the Bible that was finally somewhat finalized some three and a half centuries after Jesus ¾ and the Bible we have today underwent yet other changes!
Six, we need to keep in mind the difficulties in translations of these ancient text. Three major problems exist in this heading:
A) Words could actually be mistakenly mistranslated:
(NOTE - Refer to page 118 of this text for a referenced example of this by Bishop John Shelby Spong.)
B) Words could be understood differently today than they might have been viewed in the period they were written in.
(NOTE - an example of this in reference to repentance is given by the Historian Michael Grant and quoted on page 117 of this text. Another has to do with the understanding of the concept of faith, and holiness and trust as footnoted on page 172 of this text)
C) Many words do not really have a concise translation into our language.
(Note – One of the common words Jesus used to express the concept of love, for example, was the word 'agape'. While this word translates into English as love, it has a far deeper meaning than the generalities of love in English. The word is much more precise meaning: an unrequited and unconditional surrendering of one's self to another, or the equivalent of God’s love for mankind.
D) Some words are actually mistranslated, such as “virgin” for example:
The Hebrew word in Isaiah that the king James translation translates as virgin is almah. In Hebrew almah means girl, young woman, that can be, or not, a virgin. Therefore the word virgin in Isaiah is a wrong translation. The Hebrew word for virgin is betulah, that word is used for instance when the Holy Torah speaks about Rebecca in Genesis 24:16: "…a virgin, neither had any man known her"...
.....This fact is recognized by many Christian Bible translators, for instance "The New English Bible", "The Good News Bible", and "The Revised Standard Version" have translated this verse in the right way, and not as virgin. .
-----The King James translation recognizes this fact too. When we look for instance at Exodus 2:8, and at Proverbs 30:19, there the Hebrew text also uses the word almah, and there the King James translates it with maid, which is a girl or young woman, whose state of virginity is unspecified. And in psalm 68:25 the King James translates almah as damsel, whose meaning is similar as maid.
So the New Testament is here misquoting the Old Testament.
.......Nowhere in the Old Testament is there a prophecy that the messiah will be born unto a virgin.... In fact, nowhere in the Old Testament do virgins give birth. This concept is only to be found in pagan mythology.
(Taken from the Internet “Why don't the Jewish people recognize the New Testament?” by Eliyahu Silver & Rabbi Yitschak Goldstein
The idea of Jesus as God begins with Paul of Tarsus. Keep in mind, Paul was a Jew who had never actually met the living historical Jesus, and that he was often at odds with those who knew Jesus personally. He was a Jew living in the Diaspora among a Greco-Roman culture.
While Paul has contributed constructive inspiration to
many, one must keep in mind that his interpretations of Jesus, of Jesus'
mission, are assumptions based upon his personal experiences, own conclusions
and cultural bias. As far as we know,
the gospels had not even been written yet; and even if they had, Paul makes no
reference to them. The fact of the
matter was, Paul held no regard for the historical Jesus from
It is also noteworthy to mention that many historical scholars are in agreement that Paul exhibited many signs of deep psychological problems. And, the reader should also be made aware of the fact that many scholars often see Paul's writings as being contradictory to the actual teachings of Jesus. Often, when we compare Paul's epistles to the Gospels, one would never be able to grasp that Paul was speaking about the same man who delivered the Gospels of love. So, in the beginning, Paul was often at odds with the actual apostles who had lived and worked with Jesus, which it should be stressed again, Paul did not.
Paul actually begins to define the source of morality for Christendom, as Jesus did not address sex as well as many other moral taboos that have come to be so closely associated with Christianity. And Paul is really the source for the deification of Jesus, but he never actually declares Jesus as God as espoused in the Trinitarian concept . The acclaimed work entitled JESUS, A LIFE - by A.N. Wilson - tells us:
Paul never specifically states that Jesus was God,
though he told his converts in
(page20, Ballantine Books,ã1992 by author)
Although the deification of Jesus, and so much of
Christian theology have roots in Paul,
Those who read further in this book will perhaps change their preconceived view of Paul as a stiff necked reactionary who wanted the free-and-easy Jesus-religion to become a church with a set of restrictive rules and regulations. They will perhaps come to see him as a prophet of liberty, whose visionary sense of importance of the inner life anticipates the Romantic poets more than the rule books of the inquisition. But such a view is only possible if Christianity itself is understood as an institutionalized distortion of Paul's thought, the inevitable consequence of the world having lasted (at the time of writing) more than 1900 years longer than he [Paul]predicted. Paul did not imagine that there would be such a thing as Christianity, or Christian civilization, any more than Jesus did.
(A.N. Wilson, PAUL, W.W. Norton & Co., ã1997 by author, page14)
The idea that either Paul, or
Jesus, came to establish a church is a fabrication of organized Christian
religion. In fact, if one reads the
scriptures it clearly states that both Jesus and Paul believed that the
...the Christ in whom believers hope is finally neither the founder of a church nor a moral exemplar per se. Paul's Christ is the eschatological Deliver (II:26). With his Resurrection, he signaled the beginning of the End; with his return, he will shortly sum up the ages. The rescue mission for which God has commissioned his Son (Phil 2:5-II) is now all but complete, Paul urges. Soon, with Christ's defeat of the hostile cosmic powers and his final victory over Death, the sons of God both adopted (Gentiles, Rom ) and "natural" (Jews, 9:4) will join with the Divine Son in rejoicing in God's Kingdom.
(Paula Fredriksen, From Jesus To Christ, Yale University Press, ã1988, page61)
There would be no need for a
church because God would rule from a New Jerusalem. Both Jesus and Paul also implied that the
These profiles put together by scholars who have carefully and objectively studied the writings, cultures, and beliefs surrounding these men, give us insight into the perceptions, which influenced their thinking. Read in their culture, interpreted from their point of view, the scriptures take on a far different meaning than the Orthodox Church began to assign them some 300 years later, and even a further removed meaning from the way literalist interpret them today.
This is not to say these works are not inspired, but merely to point out that all inspiration is filtered through the eyes of its author, subject to the intellect of the translators, and often redefined by the interpretations and ideals of later cultures and generations who are far removed from the original understanding and intent. The inquiring mind looks for the inspiration in the unbiased and timeless legacy of these writings, seeking the message as it applies to the world in which they live; and, it is here one can find the true and timeless inspiration.
The idea of God and Her relationship to humanity has been ever changing since we first began to practice religion; and ultimately, this becomes why dogmatic and infallible declarations are absurd in religious theologies. Religion must be about the human relationship with God as understood in the cultural frame in which it exists; that is, if it is to have meaning to individuals as well as any social value to the community.
When the end of the world and the second coming did not materialize in the first 300 years of Christianity, churches and religious ideologies were arguing and very divided over Jesus' nature, and, at which pointed in his life became Divine. Paul's idea of Jesus as the Son of God, which we shall explore in more depth the next section, had presumed that Jesus became God's Son (in the Jewish understanding of the term) after the resurrection. As the century progressed, the Christians developed two main schools of thought with numerous diverse branches. One group, the Gnostics, seen Christ as an enlightenment whose teachings would lead us to discover an Inner Light. Like most Christian groups of the times, they had varying views about the nature of Jesus, but seemed to view this as more of an intellectual debate then a necessary component of salvation. They were far more concerned with perfecting the inner spirit than assigning articles of external faith.
At odds with this
group, during the same era, were a group of Christians that we have come to
know today as orthodox. This group, who
was eventually motivated by a desire of acceptance, structure, and ultimately
power --- are those who strengthened the idea of Jesus as a god/man, which had
a vast appeal to the people of the Greco-Roman world. This group came to believe the
To the Gnostics, salvation came from within because God
is in all men. To the Orthodox,
salvation comes from without (the church), attained in the death of Jesus as
savior, because man is incapable of saving himself. The Orthodox also viewed themselves as the
keepers and distributors of God's word and Jesus' redemption as well as
administrators of Her Kingdom. The
Gnostics believed that the
Complicating this picture of the early Christian development even more, was the fact that some Jews who were following Jesus, including several of his immediate apostles, believed Jesus came for Jews, and not gentiles; and to them, following Jesus meant adherence to the Jewish Laws contained in the Torah. The idea that Jesus was God incarnate would have been abhorrent to a practicing Jew; whereas, to the Greco-Roman world such beliefs in god/men were strong and common. The idea of Virgin births, god/men and divine incarnations: are rooted in the Gentile culture of the period. Perseus, Dionysus, Sarpedon, children of Zeus were all born of virgins. § In reality, much of the Christian theology of today reflects more of the religious and philosophical thinking of the Greeks than the Jewish Old Testament that it claims to fulfill.
The first three centuries of Christianity were fragmented and slow in its growth. In contrast to modern perception, a great and mighty church with creeds and papal authority, did not even begin to emerge until the beginning of the 4th century --- so it would seem that no church could trace its lineage back to Peter with historical accuracy.
In its early years, the Christian Church was probably even more diverse in its belief structures than it is today. Doctrines such as - The Virgin mother, The Redemption, The Resurrection, the Trinity, the Son of God, the nature of Christ: all had differing and varied interpretations among the varied sects of Christianity.
To complicate matters even further, as if these problems were not enough, Jesus had preached (according to gospels) that God's judgment and Divine rule were at hand and could come at any day. As stated, Paul too, was convinced that the Second Coming of Jesus would occur during his lifetime. Scholars and historians alike say it is most unlikely that Jesus or Paul came to establish a church as the theologians argued later. When the Second Coming didn't happen, the teachings of Paul and Jesus began to take upon themselves more mystical and supernatural interpretations requiring more and more faith; and less and less emphasis on the actual teachings of Jesus.
Then, in 325 the Christian Church obtained the support of
the Emperor Constantine with all the legions of the
The author Elaine Pagels, in her work The Gnostic Gospels, tells us:
By the time of the Emperor Constantine's conversion, when Christianity became the officially approved religion in the fourth century, Christian Bishops, previously victimized by the police, now commanded them. Possessions of books denounced as heretical were made a criminal offense. Copies of such books were burned and destroyed.
(ã1979 by author, Vintage Books, page xvii of introduction)
While this creed is the paradigm that has molded most of
Christian Theology ever sense, even after
Probably more Christians were slaughtered by Christians
in these two years (342-3) than by all the persecutions of Christianity by the
pagans in the history of
(Will Durant, The Age of Faith, Simon&Schuster,ã1950, page8)
And not only did Christianity lash out against its own, but, it also went after those who had persecuted it:
Christians divided on almost every point but one - that the Pagan Temples should be closed, their property confiscated, and the same weapons of the state should be used against them and their worshippers that had formally assailed Christianity.
As Christianity grew, and more importantly, that the
orthodoxy gained the power of the state behind it during the rule of
While the growth
of Christianity, from the meager teachings of Jesus is a historical phenomena
--- its doctrines and its power did not come from God; but rather, from they
came from the state. The persecution
over ideology, the burning of books in the Name of God,
Regions’ fault often does not lie so much with the truth it proclaims, its deceit lies in its omission of how it arrived at that so-called truth!
The issue of Jesus and his life is a complicated one. So what does this all mean to a Responsible Theology and its dealing with the life of Jesus?
Well first off, a religion fails in its responsibility when it tries to gloss over, hide, or circumvent these historical facts, leading the faithful to believe that Jesus and Paul taught the dogmas and creeds they proclaim as the Divine truth! Leading the faithful with the impression that there was a direct link from the teachings of Jesus to the creeds of today. Even the rendering of the Gospels, as if they were written by the actual Apostles: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John --- is somewhat a form of deceit.
To the inquiring or objective mind, these historical facts severely place many present theological assumptions in question, often causing Jesus' wonderful and inspired words to be lost to many. Just as religion and objective science (as opposed to manipulated science) should be compatible if religion is to have meaning, so too, should religious education and teaching reflect the objective historical knowledge of our age. In such objective seeking of truth, a Responsible Theology can seek out the deeper archetypical understanding of inspiration, rather than look for rationalizations and justifications of dogmatic assertions that have no basis in reality, serve little purpose other than control, and in the end become magical pronouncements claiming to speak with the authority of God.
Responsible Theology will follow Jung’s cardinal rule for religion: “that it give meaning to the LIFE of a man!” One should seek the practical and useful meaning of inspiration rather than looking for pronouncements that boarder fantasy and serve to foster division and intolerance.
It should not be the intent of any responsible theology to undermine the faith of individuals. But, those same individuals should have an objective presentation of the facts as they are understood in order to make an enlightened choice about what may be the most important aspect of their lives ( which is their relationship with God).
The point of Responsible Theology is not to destroy faith in Jesus. What this section points too more than anything is that Jesus "did not come for his own glory". The worship of Jesus was not Jesus' concern. At best, one could factually say, Jesus was ambiguous about his relationship with God and the nature of his essence. And that question need not be answered for Jesus to bring wholeness into one’s life.
Jesus came to bring glory to the Father and told us that such glory is given in our treatment of one another. It would seem that to Jesus, it was the message, which was important ¾ a message aimed at changing the human heart!
Like the early Church, we today are loosing sight of the teachings of the proclaimed founder in favor of abstract articles of faith. The Gospels of Jesus were not about power, dogma, heresy, and creeds as demonstrated ¾ they were not about faith, worship, Divine Law, or judgment, as we shall demonstrate in this chapter in its entirety. The teachings of Jesus were about the Love of God and the Kingdom we could participate in by expressing our love for God in our interrelationships with one another. His teachings were about every individual doing their part to make the lives of those around them better, about the personal messiah ship each of us can bring. Here lies the fundamental responsibility of theology and religion and a whole!
A responsible Christian theology must address the priorities of Jesus' Gospel. The historian Michael Grant tells us:
First things must come first: and every thought of Jesus was directed and subordinated to one single thing, a difficult thing to put into words today: the realization of the Kingdom of God upon the earth
(Jesus, An Historians View of the Gospels, Charles Scribner's Sons, ã1977, page 10)
This was Jesus' master idea and in any book written
about him, it should assume the foremost role.
The term appears repeatedly in the Gospels - no less than thirty-seven
times in Matthew alone, who usually calls it the
(Ibid, page 11)
And how does Jesus define that Kingdom? In Luke 17: 20-21 he directly answers that question:
Now when He was asked by the Pharisees when the
(King James Version)
The focus of
Jesus was not on the external development of a faith or religion, it was on the
recognition of God within the human soul.
He was not encouraging us to seek external truth or salvation, he was
instructing us on how to find God within our own heart and express that essence
of love in the reality of our everyday lives, in this way, the
Theology has erred, at least if one gives priority to the teachings of Jesus as should be done by anyone professing belief in Jesus as God or God’s representative. Whereas Jesus directed us to the internal, most of our present theology steers us toward the external.
To view the accounts of Jesus’ life from a scholarly historical perspective is both a necessary and enlightening compliment to any religious study. Very often such analysis can change the validity of literalism or dogma. It certainly brings into question the historical accuracy of many of the scriptures with literal interpretations.
For example, the gospels all agree that Jesus rallied against the teachings of the Pharisees. But Paula Fredriksen in her work “From Jesus to Christ” gives us a very good example of this in her work:
facts intervene between the lifetime of Jesus and the composition of the
…The only organized group to have survived the war [of 70AD] reasonably in tact was the Pharisees. Contemporary post-70 Gentile Christianity accordingly faced an adversarial or indifferent Pharisaic Jewish audience; and this is the situation projected, through the gospel narratives, onto the ministry of Jesus as well.
(Pages 104 & 105)
And, Ms. Fredriksen also makes clear that the power of the Pharisees during the life of Jesus was not as significant as the gospel writers lead one to believe:
In circa 30 C.E., the Pharisees were only one of a
number of groups in
… All these considerations indicate that, at the very least, the evangelists’ image of Jesus beleaguered by constant Pharisaic opposition draws more on the circumstances of their own day than on the Palestinian ministry of Jesus.
Another example, given in this same work, illustrates the differences between the time of the gospel writing and the time of Jesus. In the story of the paralytic, Jesus forgives the man’s sins which appears to be an outrage to the Jewish priests --- even blasphemous. But when one views the story through the eyes of an accurate historically enlightened mind, one might see that the present interpretation does not make sense. But this is a later assessment of this tale, for in reality, Judaism at the time of Jesus would have viewed this charge differently:
These retrospective controversies are thus somewhat contrived. In the episode of the paralytic, for example (Mk 2: 1-12), Jesus says, "My son, your sins are forgiven" (2:5), to which the Scribes respond, "It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?" Modern scholars, who assumed that something like this exchange actually occurred, read the first remark in light of the second and conclude that Jesus deeply shocked and offended his Jewish audience by daring to speak for God, or by putting himself in God's place by forgiving sins, and so on. But the connection between illness and sin, and hence healing and the forgiveness of sin, is attested in Judaism both contemporary with and after the lifetime of Jesus. In the context of a cure, such a comment would hardly seem remarkable, much less blasphemous. So also would speaking on God's behalf: within Judaism, priests, prophets, or any inspired person could claim to speak for God. Those unpersuaded might deem the spokesman wrong or misguided, but they would have little reason to find the claim itself blasphemous.
There are many other scholarly examples of how the social/cultural influences of one generation might corrupt the historical accuracy of a scriptural text. This is why it is so important to have an objective historical perspective, which limits one’s ability to turn the idea expressed in scripture into dogmatic law.
So, history becomes a very important criteria for responsible theology. But the use of history alone misses the essence of the metaphors contained in these inspired writings. In our example of the Pharisees above, in understanding the historical context as Ms Fredriksen explained, theology needs to look for another explanation as to the meaning of the story. The responsible theology will see the Pharisees as a representation of those claiming to pronounce God’s truth. In other words, Jesus would react in the same manner toward any religious leader who placed human laws and priorities above the virtues given by the Divine. And might it not be true, that those proclaiming Divine Truth today might actually condemn the actual Words of Jesus in favor of their own personal declarations of faith --- in the same way as the Pharisees are represented in the gospel.
In many ways, what we have come to know as Christianity as it is understood today, in most of its diversity, has its roots in Paul, Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, and Calvin --- much more than anything to do with the actual recorded pronouncements of Jesus the proclaimed Christ. Yet, one would think that the teachings of Jesus would be the fundamental doctrines of any church claiming to be of him, especially if they proclaim him the Son of God!
Jesus did teach a theology, but it is a theology about life and the living of it. It is a religious theology deeply rooted in a religious humanism that proclaims our love of God, our worship of Him/Her, our faith in Him/Her: are all expressed in only one manner --- our treatment of one another. The message Jesus delivered is that God is present in all He/She created and the true testimony to faith is in our interaction with that creation. These are the truly Christian ideals rooted in the teachings of Jesus, but very often they are lost in the complexities of present theological doctrine.
We have so often made theology about the Will of God, when it can be no such thing. Theology should be about out relationship with God in the mortal world. Instead of proclaiming this or that about God, theology should be encouraging the individual to look for the reality of God in all that is around them, especially in the faces of the people we encounter every day. Theology should not be about death, but about the sacredness of life --- not about God in the heavens --- but God in the reality of the creation!
The history of Jesus is a complex issue often not very relevant to the teachings of Jesus. But when theology proclaims its doctrines in the name of Jesus, and more importantly by the authority of Jesus, it then becomes obligated to present a total picture of the context and most likely concept that Jesus was trying to relay to his followers. The only way to do that is by accurate and historical understanding with an objective approach. Anything less, is not only irresponsible, it could even be considered deceitful.
In the following tracts the historical Jesus will always be considered. But other universal archetypes, images, and revelations will also be considered in conjunction with the message of Jesus in hopes of presenting a theological thesis that is relevant to life and the times we live. We are far removed from the times of Jesus and his view of the world, but that historical view should influence how we view his words today.
As we move forward in this chapter, it is hoped that the reader will see that not only was Jesus a theologian, but that he preached a responsible theology that is very practical in its idealism. That Jesus offered a sound psychology to a people who had no understanding of psychology, and a psychology that is still practical today. That, even if we were to remove religion entirely from the teachings of Jesus; we would still be left with a philosophy that is useful and constructive in the reality of our everyday living.
One’s faith in Jesus should never deter him or her from seeing the message Jesus delivered, because in reality, the salvation Jesus delivered to us is not in his bloody execution ( a sad comment indeed about our acceptance of love and truth). The salvation of Jesus, his oneness with the Divine and his messiah ship are in the example he set with his life and the message of love contained in his words --- these are the tools which can lead one into the Kingdom of God of which he spoke. These are the tools of the responsible theologian.
Perhaps it is time as we begin the new millennium that we heed these words of Jesus who was actually quoting Isaiah:
“This people pay me lip service, but their heart is far from me; their worship of me is in vain, FOR THEY TEACH AS DOCTRINES THE COMMANDMENTS OF MEN!”
Emphasizing these words he spoke as to avoid worshipping the messenger; rather than, hearing and heeding the message!
“I DO NOT CARE ABOUT MY OWN GLORY…” (John 8:50)
Please email us with your thoughts
Express your opinions on our Message Board
Sign our Guest Book
* Myth is defined here as a Sacred Story conveying inspiration and truth about human existence, its Divine origin and practical advice for the living of that life - it should NOT be understood as fables, fairy tales or falsehoods.
1 These dates reflect a
consensus of objective historical and religious scholars such as: John Romer, Bishop Spong, Walter Kaufmann, as well
as several others. Professor Fredrickson
dates the writings of Mark in 70CE. This
becomes important because of the destruction of
©Cassiodorus is remembered for founding (circa 550) the monastery
of Vivarium in
§ Source: Gregory J Riley, One Jesus, Many Christs: How Jesus Inspired Not One True Christianity But Many, Harper San Francisco, ã1997, page 39.
© The Nicene Creed used in the liturgy of many Christian churches was actually approved by the church fathers at the Council of Constantinople in 381.
k SOURCE: The Seven Ecumenical Councils, ed. H. Percival, in the Library of Nicene and Post Nicene Fathers, 2nd series (New York: Charles Scribners, 1990), Vol XIV,3
* It is interesting to note the word heresy comes from the Greek hairesis "choosing for one's self". In reality, a heresy is nothing more than a difference of opinion from the doctrines of those proclaiming the heresy. The punishment for such free thought was varied through Christian history and during certain periods carried a death sentence.