Three Things The Gospel Authors Would Have Never Invented About Jesus


 Over the years, one of the common complaints by skeptics of the Gospels is that the Gospel writers supposedly took great liberty to make up or embellish certain parts of their work to make their point. In other words, many parts of the Gospel authors  ‘invented’ or ‘fabricated’ certain aspects of the life of Jesus. Also, the Gospels are supposed to be so biased and given they are written by the ‘insiders’ how can we trust these documents? In response, the more I have studied the Second Temple Jewish period in Jewish history, I have found the exact opposite. Let me offer a few examples:

A Dying Messiah

The crucifixion of Jesus is attested by all four Gospels. Therefore, it passes the test of multiple attestation. It is also one of the earliest proclamations in the early Messianic Movement (see Acts 2:23; 36; 4:10). It is also recorded early in Paul’s writings (1 Cor.15), and by non-Christian authors Josephus, Ant.18:64; Tacitus, Ann.15.44.3. Donald Juel dicusses the challenge of a crucified Messiah:

“The idea of a crucified Messiah is not only unprecedented within Jewish tradition; it is so contrary to the whole notion of a deliver from the line of David, so out of harmony with the constellation of biblical texts we can identify from various Jewish sources that catalyzed around the royal figure later known as the “the Christ” that terms like “scandal” and “foolishness” are the only appropriate responses. Irony is the only means of telling such a story, because it is so counterintuitive.[1]

Even Paul commented about the challenge of proclaiming a dying Messiah to his fellow countrymen:

“For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.” (1 Cor.1:21-22)

According to Martin Hengel, “The social stigma and disgrace associated with crucifixion in the Roman world can hardly be overstated.”[2] Roman crucifixion was viewed as a punishment for those a lower status- dangerous criminals, slaves, or anyone who caused a threat to Roman order and authority. Given that Jewish nationalism was quite prevalent in the first century, the Romans also used crucifixion as a means to end the uprising of any revolts. In relation to a crucified Messiah, Jewish people in the first century were familiar with Deuteronomy 21:22-23:

“If a person commits a sin punishable by death and is executed, and you hang the corpse on a tree, his body must not remain all night on the tree; instead you must make certain you bury him that same day, for the one who is left exposed on a tree is cursed by God. You must not defile your land which the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance.”

The context of this verse is describing the public display of the corpse of an executed criminal. The New Testament writers expanded this theme to include persons who had been crucified. Just look at Paul’s statement in Gal 3:13: “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us—for it is written, “CURSED IS EVERYONE WHO HANGS ON A TREE.” Therefore, to say that crucifixion was portrayed in a negative light within Judaism in the first century is an understatement. In other words, anyone who was crucified was assumed not be the Anointed One of God. Also, Deut. 21: 22-23 does not really speak directly to the matter of crucifixion, nor of the crucifixion of God’s Anointed One. So this passage couldn’t of generated such a belief.

Even Michael Bird says:

Adding the title ‘Messiah’ to a crucified figure created more problems than it was worth given the divisions created in Jewish communities. It is hardly the kind of problem one would wish to create in the effort to venerate a departed leader, nor can messiahship be attached to a crucified Jesus on the back of some ad hoc scriptural proof-texting. Let us remember that the ‘Christ’ element of Christianity proved to be a point of lasting division between Jews and Christians (e.g. John 9:22; 12:42; Justin, 1 Apol. 31.5-6; Dial. Tryph. 10; 49; 90; 108). That is because a crucified Messiah was far more than an ‘insufferable paradox’. A crucified Messiah was, to many, utter madness (Acts 26:23-25) or complete foolishness (1 Cor. 1:18). Yet this is precisely what Christians maintained under trying and difficult circumstances. As Joachim Jeremias put it, ‘the scandal of the crucified Messiah is so enormous that it is hardly conceivable that the community should have presented itself with such a stumbling block.”–Michael Bird, Jesus Is the Christ: The Messianic Testimony of the Gospels

We must also expand on Dialogue with Trypho the Jew:

To build on Bird’s comments, Justin Martyr, the Palestinian Christian who in his mature years taught and wrote in Rome, tries to make the case that Jesus’ Spirit empowered ministry fulfills Scripture at many points and offers proof that he really is Israel’s Messiah to Trypho the Jew. But Trypho is not persuaded by this argument. He replies:

“It has indeed been proved sufficiently by your Scriptural quotations that it was predicted in the Scriptures that Christ should suffer…But what we want you to prove to us is that he was to be crucified and be subjected to so disgraceful and shameful death…. We find it impossible to think this could be so.”[3]

Just look at some other quotes about the failure of Jesus to meet the messianic credentials is seen in the following statements by the following rabbis:

Jesus mistake was that he thought he would be the Messiah, but when he was hanged his thought was annulled.” (R. Shimon ben Tzemah Duran (1361-1444).

We are obligated to believe that a Jewish man will come who will begin to save Israel and will complete the salvation of Israel in that generation. One who completes the task is the one, while the one who does not complete it in that generation but dies or is broken or is taken captive (Exod 22:9) is not the one and was not sent by God.” (R. Phinehas Elijah Hurwtiz of Vilna (1765-1821), Sefer haberit hashalem (Jerusalem, 1990), 521.[4]

I should note that hyper-skeptic Richard Carrier has attempted to show that it would not be hard to get a dying Messiah story going, but I have responded to that here:

Why invent a Messiah who becomes the Temple in person?

“When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple courts he found men selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple area, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! How dare you turn my Father’s house into a market!” His disciples remembered that it is written: “Zeal for your house will consume me.”Then the Jews demanded of him, “What miraculous sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?” Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.”The Jews replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?” But the temple he had spoken of was his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the Scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken” –John 2: 13-22

The Temple was the center of Jewish religious, cultural, political, and economic life. The impact of its destruction can be seen in some of the following comments in Rabbinic tradition:

Since the day that the Temple was destroyed, a wall of iron has intervened between Israel and their Father in Heaven. b. Ber 32b

Since the day when the Temple was destroyed there has never been a perfectly clear sky. b. Ber 59a

Through the crime of bloodshed the Temple was destroyed and the Shechinah departed from Israel. B. Shab 33a

Ever since the day the Temple was destroyed the rains have become irregular. B. Ta’an. 29 a [5]

Forgiving sins was something that was designated for God alone (Exod. 34: 6-7; Neh.9:17; Dan. 9:9) and it was something that was done only in the Temple along with the proper sacrifice. So it can be seen that Jesus acts as if He is the Temple in person. Even in the trial scene in Mark 14:58, it says, “We heard him say, ‘I will destroy this man-made temple and in three days will build another, not made by man.’ The Jewish leadership knew that God was the one who was responsible for building the temple (Ex. 15:17; 1 En. 90:28-29).  Jesus is the foundation of the new temple (Jn 7:37-39) and he is the place for worship (Jn. 4:23-24 ). Also, God is the only one that is permitted to announce and threaten the destruction of the temple (Jer. 7:12-13; 26:4-6, 9;1 En.90:28-29).[6] So it is apparent that for the Gospel authors to make up a Messiah who behaves as if He is the physical Temple in person would only make it more difficult to convince a Jewish person about the messiahship of Jesus.This point has been expanded on by N.T. Wright in his book The Challenge of Jesus: See a summary here:

The Son of Man as Lord of the Sabbath

“Son of Man” was Jesus’ favorite title for Himself throughout His ministry. First of all, “Son of Man ” is employed to Jesus’ earthly ministry (Mk. 2:10,28; 10:45; Matt. 13:37); Second, his suffering and resurrection (Mk. 8:31;9:31;10:33); Third, his eschatological function (Mk. 8:38;13:26;14:62; Matt.10:23;13:41;19:28:24:39;25:31).

“At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry, and they began to pluck heads of grain and to eat. But when the Pharisees saw it, they said to him, “Look, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath.”He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which it was not lawful for him to eat nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests? Or have you not read in the Law how on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath and are guiltless? I tell you, something greater than the temple is here. And if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless. For the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.” –Matthew 12: 1-8.

Given the Sabbath was and still is the most important observance in Judaism, for the Gospel authors to make any figure as having authority over  the Sabbath would only create another huge stumbling block for Jewish people.

As Ben Witherington III says,

“Now in Jewish theology, God of course was the Creator of the universe who set up the sabbatical pattern in the first place, and rested on the seventh day (see Gen. 1). Since God had created the Sabbath, only God was the Lord thereof. Yet here, Jesus’ claims, as Son of man, to be Lord over the Sabbath, and claims that He can reinterpret the Sabbath to mean, this is the perfect day to give sick people “rest” from their illnesses, even though this activity constitutes work by any Old Testament definition. In other words, as Son of man, Jesus felt He could rewrite the Sabbath rules. Why? Because He was Lord over the Sabbath and its proper observance now that God’s divine saving activity was breaking into human history through Him. “[7]

Conclusion

I could cite many more examples. But suffice to say, the more we learn about the Second Temple period, it is clear that it would be counterproductive for the Gospel authors to invent a Jesus that would die, replace the Temple, or be the Lord of the Sabbath.


[1] Donald H. Juel, “The Trial and Death of the Historical Jesus” featured in The Quest For Jesus And The Christian Faith: Word &World Supplement Series 3 (St. Paul Minnesota: Word and World Luther Seminary, 1997), 105.

[2] See Martin Hengel: Crucifixion (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1977).

[3] Saint Justin Martyr, The Fathers of the Church, trans. Thomas B. Falls (New York: Christian Heritage, Inc., 1949) pg, 208, 291.

[4] David Berger, The Rebbe, The Messiah And The Scandal Of Orthodox Difference, (Portland: The Littman Library of Jewish Civilization. 2001), 21.

[5] Michael Brown, Messianic Prophecy Objections, vol 4 of Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus(Grand Rapids MI: Baker Books, 2007), 152-161.

[6] Willam Lane Craig,  Reasonable Faith: Third Edition (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Books, 2008), 307.

[7] Ben Witherington III. Did Jesus Believe He Was The Son of Man. Available athttp://www.4truth.net. Did_Jesus_Believe_He_Was_the_Son_of_Man.htm

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