How We Got The New Testament

Recycled pictures, new post.

Once upon a time, there was, possibly, a bloke called Yeshua Bar Yosef. Maybe there was, maybe there wasn’t, but either way, a couple of other blokes, one called Simon (or maybe Cephas or maybe Peter), came to believe that Yeshua had returned from the dead and had appeared to them, alive. This was probably all in their heads and what they saw was at most a blinding light, if they saw anything at all. This was certainly the case for a different bloke, Saul (or maybe Paul) who came along later. He wrote about his experiences and admitted they were all in his mind.

This Simon-Peter-Cephas and maybe one or two others convinced themselves that Yeshua was God’s special emissary and would save them from something, somehow or other. They told other people this and, being gullible, some of these other people believed that Simon-Peter-Cephas and his mates really had seen Yeshua alive again. They started to believe Yeshua would save them too. Saul-Paul, meanwhile, wrote letters to the people he’d persuaded to believe in his version of events – it was a bit different from what Simon-Peter-Cephas and co believed – and, writing in Greek, rendered Yeshua as Iesous (‘Jesus’ came much later when the ‘J’ was invented in the 16th century.) Paul thought Iesous was a celestial being he called ‘the Christ’. He taught that this Christ would soon be coming down to the Earth to set up God’s Kingdom here. Even though they were obviously a bit rubbish, Saul-Paul’s letters were copied multiple times by hand, which is when errors began to creep in. In some places, the letters were deliberately altered.

Other people wanted to get in on the act, so they wrote letters too, pretending they were Saul-Paul. Sometimes these letters said the exact opposite of what the real Saul-Paul wrote. His weren’t the only letters to be forged either. Fifty or more years after the entire scam had got underway, someone pretending to be Simon-Peter-Cephas sent letters as if they were from the man himself. Needless to say there were cultists daft enough to believe it. There were others who wrote letters too, people like James and John. James didn’t see eye-to-eye with Saul-Paul and contradicted many of the things he said.

About 40 years after Simon-Peter-Cephas thought he’d seen the dead-but-alive Yeshua-Iesous-Jesus, somebody in a different country decided to write a back story for the character. He didn’t know much about Yeshua-Iesous-Jesus, what he’d said and done and whatnot, but that didn’t deter him. He borrowed bits from Saul-Paul’s letters and Greek myths and set about it. He scoured the Jewish scriptures for anything that sounded like it might be a prediction of Yeshua-Iesous-Jesus and his supposed escape from death. He made up episodes for him based on these completely unrelated scraps of scripture. He forgot to sign his work, however, and it wasn’t until years later that someone else decided this author’s name should be ‘Mark’.

A couple of other anonymous dudes liked what ‘Mark’ had done when inventing his Yeshua-Iesous-Jesus story but thought they could make a better job of it themselves. The first of these, who would later be called Matthew, lifted most of Mark’s effort (which is how we know ‘Matthew’ wasn’t an eye-witness; an eye-witness wouldn’t plagiarise most of the story from someone who wasn’t) and then went overboard with the prediction/prophecy thing that Mark had started. He found even more spurious bits of scripture and made up a whole lot of new stories about Yeshua-Iesous-Jesus from them. Later still, ‘Luke’ wrote his version of the story, using Mark and Matthew’s accounts and inventing a few new episodes himself. This same person went on to write a fabricated history of the Yeshua-Iesous-Jesus cult, making up stories and speeches for caricatures of Simon-Peter-Cephas and Saul-Paul.

The fourth person to try his hands at writing a script for Yeshua-Iesous-Jesus decided to completely reimagine the character. Strictly speaking, this ‘gospel’ was produced not by a single person but by a collective of cult members. Their Jesus was nothing like the one in the other three gospels. He was more a super-hero, whose special power was boasting about himself. This is the Jesus that, 70 years on, the cult wanted to believe in. Eventually, the name John would be attached to this fantasy, though this isn’t the same John who wrote letters nor the one who created the hallucinatory nightmare that would become the final book of the Bible.

These various letters and stories circulated round the Roman Empire wherever members of the new cult met. Eventually, someone hit upon the idea of collecting them together as one volume. The first we hear of this is when a guy called  Marcion produced his own collection, round about AD140. Stupidly, he didn’t include the right ‘books’ and it wasn’t until AD367 that the collection we now know as the New Testament was first mentioned. This was ratified later that century by a group of men who had elevated themselves to positions of authority in the Church, as the cult was now calling itself. Despite claiming they had been guided by the Holy Spirit, these learned men endorsed the inclusion of several forgeries. Neither did they see fit to arrange the books in the order they’d been written, giving the impression that the accounts of Yeshua-Iesous-Jesus’ life existed before Simon-Peter-Cephas and Saul-Paul’s innervisions that had sparked the whole thing in the first place.

Jump forward a few hundred years and the New Testament, as it was now known, had come to be regarded, by some, as the infallible, inerrant and authoritative Word of God, which clearly it is not. These epithets stuck, however, and are still held to be accurate descriptors of the New Testament by people who have stopped thinking for themselves.

So there we have it: how we got the New Testament –

  • It wasn’t written by eye-witnesses.
  • Its accounts of Jesus’ life are largely fictional.
  • It owes much to fanatics who were prone to visions.
  • It is given to wild speculation, offered without a scrap of evidence.
  • It contradicts itself.
  • It includes many fakes and forgeries.
  • It was banged together by men who didn’t really know what they were doing.

And after that, everyone lived delusionally ever after. The End.

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Idiotic Stuff Jesus Said 7: You Must Be Born Again

Born Again

Jesus answered him, ‘Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born again (or ‘from above’).’ Nicodemus said to him, ‘How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?’ Jesus answered, ‘Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit (John 3.3-5).

While John’s gospel isn’t the only source of Christian nuttiness, it’s certainly a mine of golden nuggets. This is mainly because it was made up so long after Jesus lived, by people who had, in all probability, never met him but who belonged to a sect led by someone who claimed he had.

Imagine, in a world without technology, photography and literacy, writing an account from memory (or from other people’s memories) of events that had occurred sixty years earlier. It would be like attempting to create today the history of a charismatic, back-water nobody who lived in the early 1950s – but without any reliable written records, pictures or sound recordings. How much faith would you have in such an account? How far would you trust, at such a distance, the account’s supposedly verbatim dialogue, especially when it conflicts on nearly all crucial points with the few other stories that circulate from the period? Of course you wouldn’t. And yet this is precisely what we have in ‘John’s gospel’, where we find the famous exhortation to be ‘born again’.

Let’s be clear at the outset; Jesus did not say ‘you must be born again.’ The point of the story is that he meant something else (equally ludicrous, but different nonetheless). Despite this, today’s Christians still insist he did say it and that to be truly saved you must indeed be ‘born again’.

But, as Bart Ehrman explains in Jesus, Interrupted (p 155), the misunderstanding central to this exchange, between ‘born again’ and ‘born from above’ occurs only in Greek. As Aramaic speakers, Jesus and Nicodemus would not, if they knew any, have resorted to Greek for this one conversation, just so this very confusion could be created.

The word in question is the Greek word anothen, which can mean both ‘again’ and ‘from above’, and it is this double meaning that prompts Nicodemus to ask if he is expected to crawl back into his mother’s womb so he can be born ‘again’. The contrivance allows Jesus to make a show of correcting him and to make his real point; ‘No, Nic, you dumbkoff. Not ‘born again’, but ‘born from above’. What do they teach you at synagogue school these days?’

So in a conversation he never had, depending as it does on a misunderstanding of the Greek he didn’t speak, ‘born again’ is not what Jesus means: his point, as the writers of John’s gospel make clear (in the Greek Jesus didn’t speak, but they did) is that one has to be ‘born from above’.

And why do people have to be ‘born from above’? Because that’s where the story’s creators believed heaven to be – above them, in the sky. Jesus himself would have believed this too, even though he didn’t utter a single one of the words attributed to him in this fabricated conversation.

Why_Christians_Don't_Cover_for_KindleThis post is adapted from my (five-star rated!) book Why Christians Don’t Do What Jesus Tells Them To …And What They Believe Instead, available from Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com

 

Idiotic Stuff Jesus Said 6: The ‘I Am’ sayings

CampLet’s be clear from the outset here; Jesus never actually made any of the seven ‘I am’ claims put into his mouth in John’s gospel. You know the ones: ‘I am the Way, the Truth and the Life’, ‘I am the True Vine’, ‘the Good Shepherd’, ‘the Light of the World’ and so on. So it is a little unfair to lump them with all the idiotic things it’s more likely Jesus did say (see previous posts.)

How do we know he didn’t say them? Lots of reasons. Firstly, they’re not in the other three gospels all of which were written earlier than John’s, and are therefore closer to the time Jesus lived (though the earliest, Mark’s gospel, was probably put together thirty to forty years after Jesus lived.) If Jesus had really made all those grand ‘I am’ claims, wouldn’t the other gospel writers have recorded them too? Yet none of them mentions even one.

Secondly, in the synoptic gospels – Matthew, Mark and Luke – Jesus has a different message from the one given to him in John’s gospel. The earlier gospels have Jesus talk about himself only very rarely. Instead, he goes on at length about the coming of the Kingdom of God (or Heaven) and how y’all better get ready for it ’cause it’s a-coming soon. Was he wrong about that one! On the odd occasion he does refer to himself in the synoptic gospels, he often does it in a sort of coded way, calling himself ‘the son of man’. He hardly ever uses ‘I’, let alone makes grandiose claims about himself.

Thirdly, all three of the synoptic gospels rely on earlier sources, now lost to us, and none of those has Jesus make ‘I am’ statements either. How do we know? Because, again, they’re not there in any of the three accounts – Matthew, Mark or Luke – that are built up from them. Significantly, one of these sources is an early record of Jesus’ sayings; that’s a ‘sayings gospel’ that doesn’t relate any ‘I am’ sayings.

Fourthly, John’s gospel is late – at least sixty years after JC’s death and also after Paul’s supernatural Christianity had gained a foothold among the gullible. The Jesus of John’s gospel is a reworked version, more in-line with the ‘Christ’ that Paul preached and much less like the Jewish peasant who had lived and preached the Kingdom of God. Despite what Christians claim, John’s gospel is not another eye-witness report (none of the gospels is) that differs only in minor details from the other three accounts. It is total reworking of the story, with its central figure transformed into a sort of divine Superman, and the idea of the coming Kingdom relegated to a single mention. This change of agenda renders the fourth gospel utterly unreliable as an historical record of anything the earthly Jesus might have said.

Fifthly, Christians claim John’s gospel differs from the others because in it Jesus reveals special, secret truths about himself to ‘the disciple whom he loved’, traditionally the John whom the gospel is named after. But again, the problem with this explanation is that the synoptic gospels don’t mention Jesus favouring one particular disciple over the others (unless it’s Simon Peter). In these, John, a loud, brash fisherman, plays only a minor role. Why don’t the synoptics refer to the special, more intimate relationship that John’s gospel refers to? Largely because there wasn’t one – not until the fourth gospel came to be written and ‘John’, who led the community that produced it, wanted to bump up his part.

So, idiotic as it would have been for an itinerant Jewish preacher and ‘prophet’, whose mission ended in failure, to make these claims about himself, Jesus never did. He didn’t say he was ‘the Way, the Truth and the Life’. Or ‘the Vine’. Or ‘the Good Shepherd’. These are claims made for him long after he lived, by people who were persuaded by a snake-oil salesman that a God-man had mystically ‘saved’ them. They ‘re-imagined’ Jesus, sayings and all, to fit their idea of what he must have been like – and John’s gospel was born.

Its Jesus, if he was being honest, should really have said, ‘I Am… nothing but Pure Invention.’