I get a kick out of people who love to quote the Bible and take particular pains to tell me exactly where what they are saying exists in the Bible, like that John 3:11 thing that pops up all the time. And so, to find out what exists there, I dug out my handy dandy Catholic Bible. It made me laugh, not because of what it said, but because whoever wrote the passage seemed to think that it must be put in quotes. By definition, the use of quotes in such circumstances means you are relating the exact words which were said. And so you ask me, what’s wrong with that. When Jesus was wandering about Palestine no one was writing down a single thing he said. If they did, well, it got lost because not a single text of that sort exists anywhere in the world today. Now that does not mean Jesus did not say words to that effect, but I find it a real stretch to believe that it is in fact a quote.
The four gospels were written no earlier than 37AD but more likely close to 100AD. But even at 37AD there exists an obvious problem. How good was the memory of the writers and who were the writers. Now here comes the real problem. In 2012 scholars made a claim they had found the oldest surviving text of the four gospels. It dates to around 125AD but it is just a small portion of the Gospel of Mark. The oldest for Matthew dates to 100AD, for John 137AD, and for Luke 200AD. Worse, none of these gospels is complete. They are fragments, literally. Scholars have had to rely on more recent, circa 400AD manuscripts to compile a single Gospel.
The next problem is equally significant. All four writers of New Testament Gospels were present with Jesus during his life. And yet, you can easily find time and again a passage in one which seems to disagree with its complement in another Gospel. There exist other Gospels by other writers which the Catholic Church has never accepted. One of the Gospels is the Gospel of Mary.
Did you ever see the movie “The Life of Brian” done by Monty Python? It is a parody, not meant to be taken seriously or to be offensive. There is one portion where a man, Jesus, is speaking to a large crowd. A second man is standing at the rear of the crowd, is a bit hard of hear, and is constantly asking the man standing next to him what was just said. Invariably the man repeating Jesus’ words gets it wrong. And that is in the moment!
Most people of the day were illiterate. I suspect Peter was definitely illiterate because he was a fisherman and his father probably never saw the need for that sort of education. I also suspect that was true for most of the other apostles too. The solution was an easy one and one oft used in those days, scribes. But scribes cost money and money for Jesus and his followers was probably something they saw very little of. There existed a second choice, the “story teller.” The story teller existed right here in North America among the Native Americans. Most of them did not have a written language and needed their legacy remembered. And so all tribes had a story teller who would remember events, messages, and everything else in very exacting language. They would learn it so well that they could pass on these messages, stories, etc. to the next generation in perfect form. Each word was remember in it precise location and proper meaning. Such people existed at the time of Jesus as well. Unfortunately we have no evidence that those who traveled with Jesus were given such a task. But just to make a point, the Koran is extremely accurate from its most early days precisely because people were tasked with perfectly committing it to memory and passing on the exact language.
Jesus was literate. The speaking in tongues, as related in the Bible, speaks to his ability to speak not just in the prevalent native language, Aramaic, but quite possibly in Egyptian, Turkish, Mesopotamian, and the dialects of the various tribes he visited. His was a mission to deliver the “good news.”
Now if you look at the four gospels closely you will find that there are really only a very few principles He preached constantly: faith, love, good works, acceptance, understanding and forgiveness. And so I just ran across this passage, it is from Matthew, Chapter 7, verse 1: “If you want to avid judgement, stop passing judgement. 2 Your verdict on other will be the verdict passed on you. The measure with which you measure will be used to measure you.” My take on that, he new who the gay people were and loved them. He knew who the prostitutes were and loved them. He knew who the thieves were and loved them.
Consider this, Jesus never founded a church because he was both born a Jew and died one. He only preached in the synagogues towards the end of his ministry. I expect he did this because he felt he could reach a lot more people by mixing with them in their daily lives. We have ample example of that happening.
But the most curious of all statements in the New Testament is where some theologian thought to put the phrase “I have not come to change the law.” I do not believe for a second Jesus ever said that because that is exactly why he came when he did. The law was imperfect and needed changing. He even went so far as to say the “eye for an eye” concept of the Old Testament was changed to the New Testament principle of “turn the other cheek.” Jesus was a radical, an extreme liberal of his day. Those Jews who felt offended by His ministry and said such were really just revealing their own guilt. Jesus ended the ancient Jewish custom of stoning by saying “he who is without sin, let him cast the first stone.”
I believe that Jesus purposefully made certain that no exact record of his adventures was ever made because as he said, “go in peace, your faith has saved you.” He led by example and showed everyone the righteous was to act hence forth. In the early days following the death of Jesus, His followers were of course outcasts of the Hebrew religion but the did not know what to call themselves. The chose to say they were followers of “the word.” That was good enough and said everything. The apostles remembered well what Jesus had taught them and went about spreading “the way.” But it was certainly by the year 100AD that they called themselves Christian for the first time.
I was talking with a priest recently and said to him that it is my belief if Jesus decided to come back, but not in a “second coming” sort of way, He would most certainly visit the leadership of all the various Christian churches to voice his displeasure in how they are acting and what they are saying. I think he would start with the Pope and ask him why Rome has found it necessary to accumulate such large caches of wealth while millions of followers go hungry each night. He would also question the need for all the pretense of the Pope and his selected cardinals. He would certainly question their requirement of tending to the poor, the sick, and the poor in spirit.
He would like remind many of the conservative Protestant churches of what was said in Matthew that I quoted above. He would ask about their pride in being intolerant and intractable. We could use a little Jesus about now. Christians seem to have forgotten what his mission was and have made it into something that serves their desires while ignoring the intent of the words as Jesus spoke them.
God once said to me, “How dare you question my love for any of mine!” I had asked the question of what to do when I come into contact with those who condemn gay people and state that “God hates fags.” And in that one little statement a great deal was said. We cannot know the mind of God as we sit here on earth but we do know his intent, Jesus gave us the words. God simply wants us to do our best, to be kind to anyone and everyone we meet, particularly those who would quarrel with us. He wants us to love all people as if they each were a blood brother or sister. He tells us not to fear sin, but simply to make our amends and change that which took us into that sin. And God has no preference of religious practice, one is as good as another as far as He is concerned. No one religion is absolutely right or absolutely wrong. And to put a point on that, He loves his Hindus, His Buddhists, His agnostics and His atheists. He gave each person the right to be what he believes to be right. He knows the best of Catholics or Jews is no better than the best of agnostics or atheists.