CONSPICUOUS DESCREPANCIES IN THE NEW TESTAMENT
“The Bible is so human a book that I don’t see how belief in its divine authorship can survive the reading of it.” William James, in response to a 1904 survey of religious belief.
“The problem is in part that the Gospels are full of discrepancies and were written decades after Jesus’ ministry and death by authors who had not themselves witnessed any of the events.” Bart D. Ehrman in his book “Jesus Interrupted.”
I have recently finished reading Ehrman’s book. He confirms with solid scholarship my agnostic suspicions that the New Testament is, among many proffered books, a selection of them written by men and chosen by like-thinking theologians, that the original works are gone and the books are all copies, that it is the child of oral transmissions over decades, that each Gospel presents a different Jesus, that the miracles are myths, that the Resurrection is hearsay, that the Apocalypse is fanciful imagining and that the Trinity is an evolved and man-made concept.
It interesting that Ehrman, prior to entering a seminary, was a fundamentalist Christian who believed in the inerrancy of the Bible. But what he learned at the seminary induced him to become an agnostic. He writes that what he learned at the seminary has been taught there for decades to aspiring preachers and he wonders why most congregations are ignorant of what is taught in the seminaries. Of course, the answer is that the churches do not want people to know that truth for obvious reasons. The Catholic Church opposed vehemently the translation of the Bible into the vernacular of the countries of Europe.
Ehrman: “Jesus’ teaching in Mark is apocalyptic: ‘This time has been fulfilled’ implies that this current evil age, seen on a time line, is almost over. The end is in sight. ‘The Kingdom of God is near’ means that God will soon intervene in this age and overthrow its wicked powers and the kingdoms they support, such as Rome, and establish his own kingdom, a kingdom of truth, peace and justice.”
Mark’s Jesus believes the kingdom is soon to come: “Truly I tell you, some of those standing here will not taste death before they see the Kingdom of God having come to power.” In Mark, “Jesus never refers to himself as a divine being, as someone who preexisted, as someone who was in any sense equal with God. In Mark, he is not God and he does not claim to be.”
But by the time John wrote his Gospel “those standing” were all gone and the Kingdom had not come, so John presents a different Jesus, one who is not an apocalypticist teaching that the end is near but one claiming to be God and the way to salvation and eternal life.
Ehrman: “Things are quiet different in the Gospel of John. In Mark, Jesus teaches principally about God and the coming of the kingdom, hardly ever about himself, except to say that he must go to Jerusalem to be executed, whereas in John, that is practically all that Jesus talks about: who he is, where he has come from, where he is going, and how he is the one who can provide eternal life.”
As to Jesus’ miracles, Ehrman makes this point: “Whereas supernatural proofs of Jesus’ identity were strictly off limits in Matthew, in John they are the principal reason for Jesus’ miraculous acts.”
St. Paul and Matthew’s Jesus differ irreconcilably on whether or not the keeping of Jewish law was a requisite to salvation. Matthew’s Jesus declared keeping them was necessary to know salvation. Paul was of the opinion that it was not necessary. Salvation to him was a matter of faith in Jesus and in his death and resurrection.
Why did Jesus die? “Mark is clear that Jesus’ death brought about an atonement for sin.” Mark’s Jesus: “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” That is, Jesus died to ransom others from the debt they owed to God because of their sins. The death is an atonement.
Luke, to the contrary, deleted the atonement reason for Jesus’ death and replaced it with his view: Salvation comes not through an atoning sacrifice but by forgiveness that comes with repentance. In Mark, Jesus died to pay for the sins of men. In Luke, Jesus died to forgive the debt.
In the Fourth century, after Constantine had a vision of Christ and believed that he helped him to win a critical battle, he became a Christian. But to disturb the peace of the empire came Arianism, the belief that God and Jesus were not of the same substance since there was the Father then came the son. Thus, the son had to be subordinate to the Father. This controversy was so threatening that Constantine convened a council of Bishops at Nicaea in 325 CE to decide whether God and Jesus were of the same substance or not. The Emperor got what he wanted: the bishops voted that the Father and the son were of the same substance. Then there were two of the Trinity, which was to evolve, fathered by the bishops, in which the Godhead consists of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost, each one equally God, eternal and of the same substance. Figure that.
I agree with Williams James’ observation that the Bible is so human a book that its divine authorship cannot survive the reading of it. The God of the Hebrew Testament was cruel, vengeful and autocratic. He had all the failings associated with humans in extreme.
Jesus is closer to being a divine being owing to his biographers’ efforts to create a divine and supernatural being. That decades past between Jesus’ crucifixion and the writings of the Gospels and that even the synoptic Gospels contain conspicuous discrepancies cause one to question their divine nature. John obviously was of a mind to make Jesus God even though his Gospel was written 85 years after the fact. The Christian churches have built upon the creed instead of the Sermon. They have built upon sand as time will tell.