1) Gospel Authorship
You say: Disciples would likely write up their accounts in a “disinterested recorder” fashion, such as Caesar and Josephus did.
Problem: Josephus and Ceasar lived in different countries, different cultures, different eras, speaking to different audiences, and whom also didn’t need to convert nonbelievers. How about you start comparing the Gospels to other books in the New Testament instead? Books that were written for the same purpose as the Gospels only a few years earlier? Look at what Paul does here:
“Paul, an apostle – sent not from men nor by man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead – and all the brothers with me, To the churches in Galatia:” Galatians 1:1-2
“For we wanted to come to you—certainly I, Paul, did, again and again—but Satan stopped us.” 1 Thess. 2:18
“See what large letters I use as I write to you with my own hand!” Galatians 6:11
Paul uses the first verse to name authorship in every single thing he wrote in the New Testament. And his stuff is dated back to right before the Gospels were written. How about we take a look at what James did?
“James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes scattered among the nations: Greetings.” James 1:1
Once again, the name is in the first verse. And you can’t claim that this wouldn’t apply to the Gospels. One of the Gospels themselves is also a letter.
“Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.” Luke 1:3-4
So the author definitely intended this to be a letter, but he doesn’t follow tradition by including his name in the first verse, and there’s no supporting evidence to say it’d be likely for him to included his name within the title. It’d be completely out of the established tradition of the other New Testament writings. There’s also evidence that this text was never titled “The Gospel According to Luke.”
“In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen.” Acts 1:1
The author calls his text simply a “book,” not a “Gospel.” Those are two very different things, especially if you claim that the author intentionally titled his writings a “Gospel” to begin with. This is compelling evidence that says the Gospels were not originally titled “Gospels” and that, had the disciples wanted to prove authorship, the names would’ve been within the first few verses, not the title.
You say: Early church fathers were quoting from the Gospels around the same time they were written.
Problem: The earliest recorded church father is Papias, who lived between 110-140 CE. We have little of his actual writings since they weren’t considered worthy enough to be copied regularly. This places his writings forty to seventy years after Mark was written, meaning one or two generations later. Unless you give me specific quotes by 1st century church fathers, I dispute your claim that this was going on “around the same time” as the Gospels being written.
You say: The last few verses in John support it being written by John.
Problem: You’re not reading the verse correctly. Let me quote the scripture again:
“This is the disciple who testifies to these things and who wrote them down. We know that his testimony is true.” John 21:24
The most important part of this verse is the last sentence: We know that this testimony is true. “We” represents the person writing this narrative. “his” represents the disciple. They are two different subjects, which means the author of this narrative is NOT the disciple.
Another important thing is that the author was basing his stories off of a written document supposedly linked to a disciple, which is why it says the disciple “wrote (testimony) down.” So, the author is using a text as a source that has supposed disciple authorship. Did the author say he met with the disciple, spoke with the disciple, verified with the disciple that it was actually written by him, or even verify which disciple it came from? No. And considering that John was written in 90-100 CE, it’s highly unlikely any disciples were still living. The average life expectancy in ancient Palestine was 40-50 years old. Also, considering the dramatic change in message, which I will detail later, this Gospel represents an obvious theological change in doctrine for the church. Had John actually written this Gospel, it would’ve been from an apocalyptical viewpoint, not a divine viewpoint, since that was how the disciples viewed Jesus according to the earliest texts.
You say: Evidence shows Greek Matthew was written by Matthew himself
Problem: The most obvious problem is that the early church fathers don’t agree with you. They claim they don’t even know who produced the Greek version:
“Matthew, also called Levi, apostle and aforetimes publican, composed a gospel of Christ at first published in Judea in Hebrew for the sake of those of the circumcision who believed, but this was afterwards translated into Greek though by what author is uncertain.” (Jerome, Lives of Illustrious Men, chapter 3)
Because the early church fathers don’t claim Matthew translated it, we can assume that there was no tradition that said Matthew had written, translated, or had any involvement with this Greek Gospel. This is curious, since this Greek Gospel, which you think was originally titled “The Gospel according to Matthew,” is tracable back to 60-70 CE, way before early church fathers were around. It had plenty of time to circulate into the hands of early church fathers. Why didn’t any early church fathers come across, or mention, a Greek Gospel of Matthew until Jerome in 350-400 CE? Especially when a Greek version would’ve had higher circulation than a Hebrew version due to it being in a more desirable language?
You can either think two things: 1) The Greek version was mysteriously missing for centuries for no apparent reason or 2) The Greek version was originally circulated as anonymous, and later became accredited.
And in fact, Jerome is wrong in saying Greek Matthew is a “translation” of Hebrew Matthew. Greek Matthew copies 70% of Q and Mark line-for-line (and often word-for-word). To get around this, you try to claim the following:
You say: Mark based his writings partially on the Hebrew Gospel of Matthew, so Matt would’ve been ok with copying Mark since it was originally his own material.
This theory would be OK if it weren’t based on your false assumption that Hebrew Matthew was a collection of notes/quotes/stories, and not a full Gospel. According to the church fathers, Hebrew Matthew was a fully fledged Gospel. This is proven by the following quotes:
“Matthew had begun by preaching to Hebrews; and when he made up his mind to go to others too, he committed his own gospel to writing in his native tongue, so that for those with whom he was no longer present the gap left by his departure was filled by what he wrote.” (Eusebius, History of the Church, 3.24.6-7).
"Among the four Gospels, which are the only indisputable ones in the Church of God under heaven, I have learned by tradition that the first was written by Matthew, who was once a tax collector, but afterwards an apostle of Jesus Christ, and it was prepared for the converts from Judaism, and published in the Hebrew [or Aramaic] language." (Eusebius, History of the Church, 6.25.3-4
No random notes would’ve been prepared and published to convert people. No church father would’ve used the word “Gospel” if it were only a collection of sayings. The church fathers claimed that the Greek Gospel was a translation of the Hebrew Gospel, implying they both contained the same general amount of information.
Hebrew Matthew and Greek Matthew and Greek Mark all went into circulation way before church fathers were around to write about them. According to your own beliefs you must think that, depite Greek being the most popular language, despite all of them starting circulation in the same few decades, and despite Hebrew Matthew supposedly only being a collection of notes, early church fathers decided to ignore the existance of the Greek Gospel for over 300 years and only talk about the Hebrew one. Can’t you see how preposterous this conclusion is? I’ll break it down for you:
1) Hebrew Matthew wasn’t a complete gospel, despite implications of church fathers
2) Church fathers either ignore or are unaware of an early Greek text titled “Gospel according to Matthew” for almost three centuries
3) Hebrew Matthew was used to write Mark, despite there being no such early tradition or evidence
4) Hebrew Matthew was used to write Greek Matthew, despite evidence that Greek Matt was based only on Greek sources
5) Greek Matthew was written by disciple Matthew, despite early church father’s claims of no such tradition
6) Greek Matthew was written by disciple Matthew, despite it’s immense reliance on Mark and Q
1) Hebrew Matthew was complete, affirming early church fathers accounts
2) Church fathers were aware of the Greek text, but it originally circulated anonymously, affirming it’s late appearance
3) No necessity to believe Hebrew Matthew was used for Mark
4) No necessity to believe Hebrew Matthew was used for Greek Matthew, affirming textual criticism
5) No necessity to believe Greek Matthew was written by Matthew himself, affirming early church fathers accounts
6) Greek Matthew was written by a collector of stories, affirming it’s reliance on Mark and Q
My solution is much simpler than yours. You have to do an amazing amount of contorting on this topic just to stay afloat. Let me now apply this to the bigger picture of all four Gospels:
Gospel authorship according to you:
Matt/Mark/Luke/John all originally spoke Aramaic and very likely couldn't write. However, they all accumulated enough free time and money to learn to speak, read, and write Greek narratives. After years of education, they began to write down Gospels, since they wanted to present eyewitness accounts, or at least close friend accounts, of Jesus' life. They write their Gospels, and they decided to leave no evidence that they themselves were involved with authorship, other than writing "The Gospel according to [....]" Mark wrote his Gospel first. Then Matthew and Luke decided to write their Gospels, but for whatever reason you’d like to invent, decide to copy 65-70% of their Gospel line-for-line off of Mark and Q. John then wrote his Gospel twenty years later and decided to present a much different theological view than the other three despite them having the same teacher. Mark, Matt and Luke wrote their Gospels in their 60s at the earliest, while John wrote in his 80s at the earliest.
Gospel authorship according to me (ala Bart Ehrman):
Matt/Mark/Luke/John all originally spoke Aramaic and very likely couldn't write. They traveled a lot, spreading word of Jesus, and did so until their dying day, as per the command of Jesus. They likely died in their 40 or 50s since that was the average life expectancy for ancient Palestinians, especially considering their travelling homeless preacher life style. Some of these stories, both written and oral, got passed onto the educated class who could write Greek narratives. The author of Mark wrote the majority of these stories down and got them circulated within early orthodox churches. Matthew and Luke both came across Mark and Q and decided to copy them into a single text together, adding some extra original stories (M, L) and edits that were personal to their situation, as evidenced by critical deconstruction of the stories. The author of John then wrote his Gospel decades later and reflects the evolution of doctrine for the church, provoked by the failure of the apocalyptic worldview, as evidenced by critical deconstruction of the stories. None of the authors personalized their accounts as eyewitnesses or close friends of Jesus because the authors were not these things: they were collectors of stories. These Gospels were all eventually accumulated together by Iraeneus, the first church father who claimed there were only four genuine Gospels, and after confirming with various “elders” which of the Gospels were genuine, titled them “The Gospel according to...”
2) Extraordinary Claims
You say: Both a Resurrection, a mass halluciniation, a mass delusion, or a mass lie are all extraordinary claims. Since there is no evidence to show the Resurrection was made up, it is the most likely claim due to the complexity of the other options.
Problem: You shouldn’t be using the term “extraordinary claim” in order to combat my argument, because I never used it myself. You’re trying to counter my argument by introducing new words that I never used myself. Sure, all four possible explanations are “extraordinary claims” – but this phrase has no meaningful purpose when we’re talking about critical historical plausibility. Historical plausibility is based on many things, but the main component you should be trying to focus on is this:
Can this story happen according to what we can know or provably say about the world?
Mass hallucinations provably happen in real life (Virgin Mary). Complex lies provably happen in real life (Iraq WMDs). Mass delusions provably happen in real life (David Koresh). These things do not violate what we can provably say about the world; they are perfectly natural occurrences. We could, with enough effort, start our own mass hallucination/lie/delusion if we wanted to.
What about our fourth option, a man raising from the dead? Can a Resurrection provably happen in real life? No. Can we start our own Resurrection? No. It is an impossiblity. We can call a miracle an “extraordinary claim,” but that’s only half of the meaning. A miracle is an impossibility according to what we can provably say about the world. It’s provable that the dead can’t reanimate themselves. It can be proven that, despite our best attempts, there is no possible way to resurrect a dead body. On the other hand, there are mountains of provable, demonstrable, testable evidence that say mass deceptions/lies/hallucinations can and do happen often.
You say: A complex lie/ hallucination/delusion is a very problematic explanation for the facts.
Problem: They may be problematic, but they can provably occur in real life. On the other hand, with miracles we can say they provably can’t happen. Go try to walk on water and see how successful you are. But, since you are only using the Bible as your only source for “facts” instead of also including all scientific knowledge, I will proved some quick scriptural answer to show how it’s not all that problematic.
1) According to the Gospels, some various women were the very first people who were told Jesus Resurrected, and according to our earliest Gospel Mark it’s by a “young man in white clothes” who says “Jesus is not here.” The women then go off and tell the disciples. The stories from the women could’ve easily primed the disciples for future hallucination and delusions.
2) According to Luke, one story has Jesus talking with disciples and then suddenly disappearing for no reason – this implies the vision was a hallucination.
3) According to Matt, the disciples all went to go see Jesus preach, but some of them remained doubtful it was really him – this implies some of the disciples were delusional, mistaking another teacher as Jesus.
I will talk about this in more detail in the next section.
3) Evolution of Doctrine
Now a large part of my argument rests on my ability to show the evolving doctrine of the church – how doctrine changed from an apocalyptic worldview to a Jesus-is-God worldview. Let me establish what I believe the order of events were, which mostly took place in the 70-80 years after his death:
1) Jesus is considered a traditional apocalyptic Jewish Messiah by his followers, according to the earliest manuscripts (proven by Mark, Q, M, L, in my last email)
2) Jesus is crucified, giving his followers a deep depression thinking they had been fooled about his Messiahship (you agree to this)
3) Jesus is believed to be resurrected by some of the disciples, due to non-miracle, desperation related reasons (probable, see argument below)
4) Disciples/early Christians invent doctrine of the "suffering" Messiah for themselves, contradictory to the traditional meaning of Messiah and unlike Jesus’ original message (provable, see argument below)
5) Mark/Q/M/L are written, early church still explains Jesus’ life in an apocalyptic context; suffering, Resurrected Messiah will soon return to earth to judge Mankind (proven by Paul, in last email)
6) Early Christians continue to wait for Jesus' return as the Son of Man but nothing happens for years (provable Jesus didn’t return, lol)
7) Doctrine eventually evolves again in order to stabilize the church and maintain followers who are losing faith: Jesus is now considered God, the coming kingdom of God evolves into a theology of Heaven/Hell (provable, see argument below)
As you can see, some of my points were proven in my last email, so I won’t spend time explaining them in this one unless you had a rebuttal.
1) Jesus is believed to be a traditional apocalyptic Jewish Messiah by his followers according to the earliest manuscripts
I documented in my last email how Mark, Q, M and L are the earliest sources we have, and that all of these sources strongly confrim that Jesus and his followers were apocalyptic Jews who believed the Kingdom of God would come during their lifetimes. Even after his Resurrection, the followers stayed apocalyptic Jews for a while, as evidenced by Pauls letters tellings his christian brothers that the Kingdom of God will soon be here, and to wait patiently. You had only a single rebuttal to all that I posted:
You say: Matthew 25:31-46 doesn’t mean you have to do good works to get eternal life. It was only “stressing the importance” of doing good works.
Problem: You are interpreting scripture so it fits into your pre-conceived notion of what Christian doctrine should say, instead of letting scripture speak for itself. This scripture is early, direct evidence that doing good works or bad works is direct related to how one gets eternal life or eternal hell:
“Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.'” Matthew 25:41-43
Jesus did not say, as you imply, “It is important that you do good works.” That’s a ridiculous interpretation of this passage. He said people who do bad works are “cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” How much more obvious can Jesus make it for you?
“Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life." Matthew 25:46
And this says those who do good deeds, the righteous, will get eternal life. This is not tricky. This is not a parable or a hidden message or symbolic of anything, unless you try to mash it up with later-dated scripture and theology, which you shouldn’t do when you’re trying to responsibly interpret scripture. This is early direct evidence of the apocryphal worldview that Jesus and his followers held.
3) Jesus is believed to be resurrected by some or all of the disciples, due to non-miracle, desperation related reasons.
How can I know this? Because of the way the Resurrection story is told. There’s a large, obvious consistency error within the Resurrection story that most people glaze over. Jesus plainly tells his disciples that he will be Resurrected after 3 days multiple times, even during the last supper, and guess what his disciples do? Forget that he told them that. Yes, the disciples, Jesus’ closest friends, apparently forgot that He would rise from the dead, despite his constant reminders:
“He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: ‘The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’ Then they remembered his words.” Luke 24:6-7
The angels here are quoting what Jesus had plainly said to the disciples multiple times throughout their time with him. Can you really believe that the disciples forgot Jesus’ own Resurrection prophecy? It’s preposterous. And then, on top of that, some of the Disciples still don’t believe He resurrected. After personally seeing Jesus heal the blind, control the weather, walk on water, and resurrect dead people, they decide that, well hey, those were just normal miracles. Resurrecting yourself is a whole different ballgame!
“So the other disciples told him, "We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, "Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it." John 20:24-25
Really? You have so little faith in a man that you supposedly saw walking on water and resurrect dead people? This story basically makes the disciples look like a bunch of fools in order to empathise with the reaction of a nonbeliever. A nonbeliever would be extremely skeptical of Jesus’ resurrection, just like Thomas. But it would be completely out of character for a disciple with half a brain to react in this way. It makes little sense to think of these accounts as historical. Instead, it becomes obvious that these stories were written for the sake of converting nonbelievers. After the story of doubting Thomas, Jesus immediately says:
“Then Jesus told him, "Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed." John 20:29
The author certainly invented this quote by Jesus simply to appeal to people who doubt the Resurrection. There’s even some evidence within the Bible that some of the disciples never ended up believing he Resurrected.
When we go to the earliest Gospel, Mark, he leaves out all of the stories that detail the resurrected Jesus interacting with Disciples. The most reliable early manuscripts and other ancient witnesses do not have Mark 16:9-20. It was an addition by a scribe who was motivated to flesh out Jesus’ Resurrection story. Proof: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mark_16#Mark_16:9.E2.80.9320_in_the_manuscript_tradition
So how did Mark originally end? Two women saw the large stone rolled away. A young man in a white robe said Jesus rose from the dead and is no longer here. She runs off to tell the disciples. THE END. Our earliest Gospel doesn’t mention a single person actually seeing Jesus and being shocked and amazed and etc etc etc. It doesn’t say a single thing about doubting Disciples or whether they believed the women or not. But as we see, the further and further one reads into later manuscripts, the story becomes more and more sensationalized and dramatic.
Matthew’s account is a bit more dramatic: An angel spoke to the women, then Jesus appeared to the women, and they exchanged a 5 second conversation and he disappears. Then Matt has a whole 5 sentences about Jesus hanging out with the disciples. “Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted.” It doesn’t even say the doubters were eventually convinced, all it says is that, well, some of the disciples didn’t really believe it was Jesus. What comes next?
Luke’s account is even more sensational. Two men in gleaming clothes spoke to the women and told them Jesus resurrected. The disciples talk with Jesus for an extended period of time and don’t recognize it’s him. But wait, this time they recognize him at the very end, but as soon as they do he disappears. Jesus then later starts showing off his holey hands and feet. This was important for apocalyptic Jews to mention, since they believed everybody would be bodily Resurrected when the Kingdom of God arrived: Jesus was providing the first example of bodily Resurrection.
And finally John, the latest Gospel, goes off the deep end. Oddly enough, there’s apparently no angles or men in the cave to tell the women anything. Later, resurrected Jesus lets disciples poke finges through his holes in his hand, he helps them catch some fish, probably drink a few beers, and tries to get Pete all jealous because he pays too much attention to John (21:15-17). So now, Jesus lets people poke him through his Resurrected hand. It’s obviously a more elaborate story to “prove” that he was physically resurrected, and a more direct effort to combat Gnostic doctrines floating about in the early churches claiming Jesus only spiritually resurrected.
So Dave, how does that work exactly, when the story written closest to the event barely implies a Resurrection, while the story written fartherest claims that Disciples were poking their hands through the holes in Jesus’ Resurrected hands and feet? You still think these are pretty good accounts of the events? I’d hope not.
Now I’m not saying the Disciples didn’t believe in the Resurrection. I’m sure some of them did, in one fashion or another. But it’s very unclear what events led to their belief in his Resurrection, or how many of them actually believed in it. The disciples were certainly hopeful for a sign of some sort after his crucifixion – anything to show that Jesus, and their apocalyptic views, weren’t a fraud after all. Hence, they likely accepted the stories of the two women in Mark and ended up having some postmortem hallucinations (which Luke can imply, with Jesus instantly disappearing for no reason) or delusions (which Matt can imply, since some disciples remain unconvinced that the man who’s preaching to them is Jesus). But by the time we get to John, we’re in full-swing fiction land.
These are all tell-tale signs that the Gospels are collections of various oral stories that were sensationalized over time in an attempt to convert nonbelievers and combat Gnostic doctrine. Even if we could say they were written by Matt or John, the accounts are so hole-filled and contradictory that a court jury would proclaim them unreliable witnesses to any of these events.
4) Disciples/early Christians invent doctrine of the "suffering" Messiah, contradictory to the traditional OT meaning of Messiah and unlike Jesus’ original message
Now we need to establish not only what “Messiah” means but also “Son of Man” within the context of apocalyptic Judaism to figure out how the Disciples thought of Jesus. It’s fairly easy to establish the tradition meaning of a Jewish Messiah, which is how the disciples thought of Jesus. Read Psalm 2:1-9, and whenever you see the “annointed” it literally means “Messiah.” There’s also Psalms of Solomon, written a few decades before Jesus that detailed the Jewish apocalyptic perception of the coming Messiah:
“See, Lord, and raise up for them their king, the son of David, to rule over your servant Israel in the time known to you, O God. Undergird him with the strength to destroy the unrighteous rulers, to purge Jerusalem from gentiles, who trample her to destruction; in wisdom and in righteousness to drive out the sinners from the inheritance; to smash teh arrogance of sinners like a potters’ jar; to shatter all their substance with an iron rod; to destroy the unlawful nations with the word of his mouth.... He will gather a holy people whom he shall lead in righteousness.... And he will have gentile nations serving him under his yoke, and he will glorify the Lord in a [place] prominent [above] the whole earth. And he will purify Jerusalem and make it holy as it was even from the beginning... And he will be a righteous king over them, taught by God. There will be no unrighteousness among them in his days, for all shall be holy, and their king shall be the Lord Messiah. Psalm of Solomon 17:21-32
That the Messiah would be a powerful warrior king was the expectation of many Jews in Jesus’ day. Now, specifically for the apocalyptic Jews, the Messiah would not just be an earthly king but also a cosmic judge of the earth, sometimes refered to as the Son of Man. An example:
"In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed. Daniel 7:13-14
Here’s some other Jewish excerpts from the first century CE detailing who this “Son of Man” is supposed to be in the apocalyptic sense:
“And they [the people of God] had great joy, and they blessed and praised and exhalted because the name of the Son of Man had been revealed to them. And he sat on the throne of his glory, and the whole judgement was given to the Son of Man, and he will cause the sinners to pass away and be destroyed from the face of the earth. And those who led astray the world will be found in chains, and will be shut up in the assembly place of their destruction, and all their works will pass away from the face of the earth. And from then on there will be nothing corruptible, for that Son of Man has appeared and has sat on the throne of his glory, and everything evil will pass away and go from before him. 1 Enoch 69
You can also look up 4 Ezra 13:1-11 as well if you want, it basically says the same thing. The Messiah, the Son of Man, will come with power and glory and rule with a rod of Iron and be a cosmic judge of the earth. That, by definition, is a Messiah, a son of Man, an annointed one, within the apocalyptic context. This is how Jesus’ followers viewed him before he was crucified.
But when Jesus was crucified, his followers were shocked. The Romans crushed him like a gnat due to a political nuance. This was completely different from their expectations of a Messiah. But then some women and some disciples came to believe that Jesus had resurrected. This reaffirmed their belief in him as Messiah, but forced them to radically changed their perspective on how “Messiah” should be interpreted. Apparently the Messiah was actually supposed to suffer and die at the hands of his enemies: so, they began searching scripture to confirm this belief. Early Christians started teaching that Isaiah 53:1-6 and Psalm 22:1-18 were actually talking about the Messiah, even though the scriptures never use the word, and were never taught to be about the Messiah. They were, in other words, cherry-picking scripture out of context to confirm their faith in his Resurrection. Thus, their idea of “suffering Messiah” was an evolution of the original “mighty warrior-king Messiah” – a necessary evolution, or else Jesus, and his followers, would’ve been considered a failure.
7) Doctrine eventually changes in order to stabilize the church and maintain followers who are losing faith
As I quoted in my last email, Paul was telling his churches to prepare for the return of Jesus. Read the letters to Thesalonians. Everyone was getting ancy for Jesus’ return as the glorius son of Man, the glorius Messiah. Only one problem: people got tired of waiting year after year with no sign in sight.
As we can see in Acts, Luke wastes no time answering the burning question in everybody’s mind: why isn’t the Kingdom of God here yet?
“So when they met together, they asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom of Israel?” He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority.” Acts 1:6-7
That must’ve been disappointing for the followers of Jesus, but this was a necessary evolution. The early church leaders began turning the focus away from the imminent arrival of Jesus as Son of Man, intead concentrating on the “mystery” of Jesus’ Resurrection and Divinity – a mystery largely because Jesus himself never taught such a thing according to our earliest sources. The authors of the Gospels began to invent stories about Jesus so his life would start fufilling a number of prophecies he never originally fulfilled.
For example, both Matthew and Mark knew of the prophecy in Micah 5 about a Messiah coming out of Bethlehem. It was widely known that Jesus was originally from Nazareth, so what are the authors to do? Invent a way in which Jesus ends up both in Nazarth and Bethlehem. Matt invents a story about Mary and Joseph having a home in Bethlehem, Jesus being born there, and then a few years later they move to Nazarath. Luke invents a story about Mary and Joseph having always lived in Nazareth, but needed to go to Bethlehem real quick for a census. For the census, apparently every person living in the empire had to go back to their ancestral home. Joseph goes back to Bethlehem due to King David being his ancestor 1,000 years ago. Are we really to believe that everyone in the Roman Empire was required to return to the homes of their ancestors from a thousand years earlier? It would completely disrupt all of society. And apparently, the Roman Empire decided to have not a single record of this massive event taking place. It’s highly likely that both of these stories were invented simply to fulfill prophecy that never happened, not because the authors were accidently misremembering stories.
And the book of John is the most obvious example of changing doctrine. It represents the almost complete move away from the apocalyptic viewpoint, and is wholy focused up Jesus’ divinity. It was written at least 20-30 years after Mark/Matt/Luke, and it’s easy to see how, after 20-30 years of waiting patiently, the church was having to dramatically change doctrine away from the supposed “imminent arrival” of the Son of Man.
For example, in Matthew, Jesus comes into being when he is conceived, or born, of a virgin; in John Jesus in the incarnate Word of God who was with God in the beginning and through whom the universe was made. In Matthew, there is not a word about Jesus being God; in John, that's precisely who he is. In Matthew, Jesus teaches about the coming kingdom of God and almost never about himself (and never that he is divine); in John, Jesus teaches almost exclusively about himself, especially his divinity. In Matthew, Jesus refuses to perform miracles in order to prove his identity; in John, that is practically the only reason he does miracles
“Son of God” turns into “Jesus is divine”
The “suffering Messiah” doctrine also continued to evolve. It turned into a doctirne of Jesus’ divinity due to early christians, mostly Pagans, not understanding what “Son of God” implies. For pagans, it was a simple thing to call someone half God, half man. Their pagan traditions had frequently spoken of Gods having children with humans. When Pagans heard about Jesus, and heard he was the “son of God” – it was an easy thing to think of him as half man half God. However, ancient Jews did not have the same meaning for “son of God” as the pagans. According to the Old Testament (2 Samuel 7:14, Hosae 11:1) being the Son of God simply means being a vessel that God uses to do things, nothing more, nothing less. No divine half-god half-man origin. So can we see the evolution of Jesus’ divinity within scripture? Indeed we can.
We know that Jesus’ original followers believed him to be a Messiah before the Resurrection, since they had no reason to think a Messiah needed to suffer. Jesus would be a cosmic Judge, the son of Man, with the return of the Kingdom of God. But because Messiah doctrine evolved into “suffering Messiah” after his death, early Christians began teaching that Jesus was Messiah due to the Resurrection, as detailed in Acts 2:29-36 and 13:32-35. Only after his death, at his resurrection, did God turn Jesus the “son of God”:
"We tell you the good news: What God promised our fathers he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising up Jesus. As it is written in the second Psalm: 'You are my Son; today I have become your Father.” Acts 13:32-33
God fulfilled his promise by resurrecting Jesus. This is likely the earliest Christian belief. But then, that belief evolved into the idea that Jesus actually became the “son of God” earlier on, during his Baptism, found here:
“As Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: "You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased." Mark 1:10-11
So now Jesus became the son of God, the vessel of God, at his baptism instead of his Resurrection. Then, that belief evolved even more, into the idea that Jesus was actually born the son of God, found in Luke. For Luke, Jesus is the son of God not due to a Resurrection, not due to a Baptism, but due to God literally being his father at conception.
“The angel answered, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.” Luke 1:35
How much futher could they go back than Jesus’ birth? How about for all of eternity, found in John:
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning..... The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only” John 1:1-14
Thus, “son of God” evolved from simply meaning “vessel used by God” into a whole new doctine: “Divine and equal to God.”