The Jewishness of Jesus: Some Religious Implications For Gentile Christians By Jewish Christian

The Jewishness of Jesus: Some Religious Implications For Gentile Christians By Jewish Christian

The one whom Christians cliam is the foundation, the cornerstone of their religion is Jesus or Yeshua, as he was really called, which was a popular variant of Joshua – meaning “the L-rd is salvation.” It is interesting to note that Jesus was himself not a Christian. He in fact was a Jew. He did not go to Mass, or indeed any worship service, on Sunday morning. He went to services on the Sabbath. He did not go to church. He went to synagogue. He did not speak Greek, Latin, Church Slavonic, German, or English. He spoke Hebrew and Aramaic – two semitic languages. He had a Jewish mother, which means he probably looked a lot like other Jews, i.e., dark hair and complexion, perhaps with a so-called Roman nose, not too large in stature. No one addressed him as Father, Paster, Reverend, or Minister. But he was addressed as Rabbi. He did not read the New Testament, nor did he think it the inspired word of G-d. He did read the Hebrew Bible and thought it the Holy Scriptures. He never recited the Rosary, chanted Hospodi pomilui at a litany, nor sang a Wesleyan hymn. Rather, he recited the psalms; he died with one on his lips: “Eli, Eli, lama sabachtani?” (My G-d, my G-d, why have you abandoned me?) He did not celebrate Christmas and Easter. He celebrated Shavout and Passover – not communion, but a Seder. To repeat, Jesus was not a Christian. He was a Jew. He was Rabbi Yeshua. 

Rabbi Yeshua was not a mediocre, run-of-the-mill, secularized Jew. He was a very observant Jew. He wore tzitzit (the dancing fringes seen on observant Jew today) – recall the story of the woman with the twelve-year flow of blood who but touched the fringe of his clothes. What is really important to remember is that, whatever Luther or any other Protestant interpreter of Paul – or Paul himself – said, Rabbi Yeshua did not ocme to dispense with or do away with the Torah, the Law. He came to carry it out. One Orthodox Israeli scholar, Pinchas Lapide, said of Yeshua:

“never and nowhere broke the Law of Moses, the Torah of Moses, nor did he in any way provoke its infringement – it is entirely false to say that he did… This Jesus was a faithful to the Law as I would hope to be. I even suspect that Jesus was more faithful to the Law than I am – and I am an Orthodox Jew.” – (Pinchas Lapid and Hans Kung, “Is Jesus a Bond or Barrier? A Jewish-Christian dialogue,” [summer, 1977] 473)

Jesus, Yeshua himself makes the claim about keeping the Law, the Torah – until the end of the world. There is no notion whasover of the abolishment of the Law in his words – and it should be remembered that they are recorded by Matthew: “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the prophets; I came not to destroy but to carry out” (plerosai, literally, to implement; Mt.5:17-19). Another Israeli Orthodox Jewish scholar put it this way: “Yeshua was “a Torah-true Jew” (David Flusser, Jesus in Selbstzeugnissen und Bilddokumenten (Reinbeck, 1968), p.43). A Jewish professor of Rabbinics at Cambridge University stated the same idea thus: “Nor can I accept that Jesus’ purpose was to do away with Judaism as he found it. He had his criticisms, to be sure, but he wanted to perfect the Law of Moses, not annul it. The Christian hostility to this law strikes me as a betrayal of Jesus’ teaching” (Nicholas de Lange, “Who is Jesus?” Sidic, vol.12, no.3 [1979], p.12). The scholar of Judaistics, Johann Maier, made the same point: “There is no evidence that Jesus had intended a suspension of the Torah. Rather, he was perceived as so devout that the Pharisees displayed an even positive interest in him and viewed him as worthy or travelling around with. Likewise, the Jewish-Christian community saw no reason to give up the Torah either in theory or practice… In no individual concrete case – neither in relation to the Sabbath healing, nor in ritual practice, nor in the question of divorce – is there a fundamental conflict with “the Law” (Johann Maier, “Jesus von Nazareth und sein Verhaltnis zum Judentum aus der Sicht eines Judaisten,” 1980, pg.95). 

It should be clear upon the briefest reflection that those Christians who attempt to set up some sort of dichotomy between the Law and grace, as if Judaism were a religion only of Law and Christianity were a religion only of grace – whaever they might be – in this regard are not followers of Jesus, of Rabbi Yeshua. He at any rate was committed to the keeping of the Law, the Torah, “as long as heaven and earth last!” and “whoever breaks even the smallest of the commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be the least in the Reign of Heaven.”

The Paul Of Tarsus: A False Teacher Or True Apostle?

Rembrandt’s painting of Apostle Paul

Rembrandt’s “Apostle Paul” courtesy of the National Gallery of Art

Yahushua knew that when He returned to Heaven, Satan would seek to destroy the fledgling Christian Ekklesia. By ridicule, by force, by deceitfulness, Satan indeed tried to destroy what Yahushua had raised up.

To meet the emergency, Yahuwah “gave some apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of . . . Yahushua. (See Ephesians 4:11, 12.)

The goal of this great gift was so “we [could] all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of . . . [Yah], unto a perfect man. . . that we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive.” (Ephesians 4:13, 14)
One wind of doctrine that has been growing in strength is the belief that Paul was a false apostle, brought in by the devil to destroy the new Christian faith. Paul’s warning in Acts is applied to him, as an imposter and apostate:

“For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock.” (Acts 20:29, NKJV)

Various phrases, once in a while a full text, from Paul’s writings are taken out of context and used to support the contention that he was a false apostle, brought in by the devil to wreak havoc on the “flock” of believers.

These phrases, taken primarily from First and Second Corinthians accuse Paul of:






Speaking NOT on behalf of YHVH;

Using trickery and deceit;

Passing judgment upon others;

Belittling Peter, James and John;

Consulting with Satan;

Holding an exalted opinion of himself;

Injecting his own ideas into Scripture;

Preaching “another” gospel;

Giving faulty marriage counsel;

Telling husbands to start living the single life again;

Dictating “proper” hairstyles for men;

Judging hungry, growling stomachs.

These scattered texts and partial phrases are taken out of context and used as “proof” that Paul himself was one of the ravening wolves he warned against. Taking verses out of context should always raise warning flags in every mind.

Such claims do not regard the context of the surrounding verses; they do not consider the environment in which Paul was raised nor the culture for which he was writing. 

The style of Paul’s writing is consistent with the literary style of the first century A.D. He used a “point-and-counter-point” style of reasoning that was commonly used by the Israelite scholars of his day.

Rejecting the writings of Paul typically does not end with cutting his epistles from the Bible, which account for 14 of the 27 books of the New Testament. Consistency demands that if Paul is a false apostle whose books should be removed from the Bible, then the two books written by his co-laborer, Luke, must also be rejected because Luke clearly supports Paul as an apostle commissioned for Gospel work by Yahushua.

But it does not stop there. If Paul were a deceiver whose writings must be rejected, then the authority of the other apostles is also called into question because the leading apostles, Peter, James and John, accepted Paul’s apostleship:

“. . . when James, Cephas [Peter], and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that had been given to me, they gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised.” (Galatians 2:9)

The James who extended the “right hand of fellowship” to Paul, was not James, the brother of John, for he had already been martyred by that point. This James was the highly respected step-brother of Yahushua and author of the New Testament book of James. 

If Paul were a false teacher, then the trustworthiness of those who extended to him the right hand of fellowship, must also be questioned. The result is that eight more books of the remaining 11 books of the New Testament must be laid aside. These are:

The Gospel of John

First Peter

Second Peter


First John

Second John

Third John

The Revelation

The only books remaining in the New Testament then would be Matthew, Mark and Jude. Nor are these unassailable. 

The gospels of Matthew and Mark support Peter and John as men commissioned by Yahuwah. But if Peter and John are untrustworthy for accepting Paul as one of them, then the judgment of Matthew and Mark is questionable for accepting Peter and John. The only book left in the New Testament is the single-chapter book of Jude.

list of books that must be dismissed if one rejects the inspiration of Paul 

The real danger in setting aside the writings of Paul, however, is found in the motivation prompting such charges against this most prolific of the New Testament writers.

The whole Hebrew economy revealed the plan of salvation in type and symbol. This was why, when Yahushua wanted to explain His mission the evening after His resurrection, “beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.” (Luke 24:27)

Paul was raised and educated as a Pharisee. He was a member of the Sanhedrin. Israelite tradition demanded that any prospective member of the Sanhedrin have the Torah, the five books of Moses, entirely memorized by age 12.

Paul’s education as a Pharisee made him very well-acquainted with the Law as well as what part was merely the traditions of men. This made him an extremely capable teacher of the gospel, rightly dividing between Truth and Tradition.

Paul’s denouncement of the rite of circumcision has led some to reject his writings as a Law-breaker. Nothing could be further from the truth. Paul upheld the divine Law as “holy and the commandment holy and just and good.” (Romans 7:12)

Circumcision is one of the statutes. Paul did not argue against circumcision as a statute. He simply clarified that it would not somehow earn one salvation.

The entire thrust of Paul’s ministry was righteousness by faith. Clearly understanding that salvation is by grace alone, through faith, Paul’s writings must be understood in the context of his struggle against the heresy of salvation by works.

All false religions are based on salvation by works, in one form or another. Even the Israelite religion had degenerated into a system of salvation by works under the traditions of the elders which Yahushua repeatedly rebuked.

Righteousness by Faith (Galatians 5:5)Gentile believers, coming out of paganism, were easily lured back into the salvation by works taught by “Judaizers.” The Judaizers claimed to believe in Yahushua as the Messiah, but their influence was to return to the traditions of men as the means to salvation. 

They rejected salvation as a free gift received when one chooses to believe in the Saviour.

Paul’s clarion call to the Gentile believers echoes down to truth-seekers today:

“For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of . . . [Yahuwah]: not of works, lest any man should boast.” (Ephesians 2:8, 9, KJV)

Adopting the traditions of the Jews does not bring one salvation. Wearing tassels and head coverings does not recommend one to Yahuwah. Using Hebrew words that no one else can understand does not make one a better Law-keeper.

Salvation by works is very alluring to fallen human nature. Adopting Jewish traditions, clothing or words can easily make one feel superior to those who do not adopt the same traditions.

Whether the life-style choices are founded on Scripture or are merely Jewish tradition, the point is that salvation by works may feed the ego but will never earn anyone salvation. 

Law-keepers will be careful in diet and dress. But to use it as a standard by which to judge one’s merits, destroys the very essence of the Law which is Love.

The Pharisees rigorously kept the do’s and don’ts of the Law, but neglected love, kindness, justice and mercy. Yahushua told them:

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone.” (Matthew 23:23)

Salvation by works will never save anyone.

“But that no one is justified by the law in the sight of . . . [Yahweh] is evident, for ‘the just shall live by faith.’ ” (Galatians 3:11)

Satan knows no one will ever be saved by works. He has led people to misunderstand Paul’s writings and reject the clearest teachings in Scripture of the vital doctrine: righteousness by faith.

Here is the real secret behind the rejection of Paul. Paul’s clear understanding of the Law versus Tradition led him to reject the law as the means of earning one’s salvation. 

Paul taught that the Law should be kept. However, he understood it can only be kept by faith in Yahuwah. 

The only hope anyone has is to cease trying to work one’s way to Heaven. Accept that all the “works of the law” you have performed cannot save you. 

“All our righteousnesses are like filthy rags.” (Isaiah 64:6)

Righteousness by faith means Yahushua lives out His life in you. Your will is brought into perfect harmony to Him. Then and only then is the divine Law perfectly kept.

Paul, an apostle divinely commissioned by Heaven to take the gospel to the Gentiles, has a message for all today who would be saved:

I am crucified with . . . Yahushua: nevertheless I live; yet not “I,” but Yahushua lives in me: and the life which “I” now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the son of Yah who loved me, and gave Himself for me. (See Galatians 2:20)

Do not be swayed by the varying winds of doctrine. Be rooted and grounded in Scripture. 

Accept the righteousness of Yahushua by faith. You, too, can experience the joys of salvation through faith in the merits of the Saviour. 

Early Christianity Turned To Be Like a Philosophical School

1. Hellenistic philosophies saw themselves as distinctive sects, each focused on a central value/good.
There were, for example, Stoics, Cynics and Epicureans. Each of these had its own attitude toward life and idea of what is the single umbrella good to which one must strive.

Stoics taught that virtue was “the answer” to the question of life. Everything else, all the other values and attachments deemed to be good were subordinate to “unitary good” of virtue. Family, possessions, would always take second place in the event of any conflict in following the ideal of virtue.

For Epicureans the ultimate good was freedom from pain and friendship. And so forth.

For Paul, the single, overriding good was “life in Christ”. Other values such as marriage, the household, business, ethnicity, were secondary. Even the commandments of God in the Jewish scriptures were superseded by Christ.

Yes, Paul’s stress upon worship of only one God and not many, and his “apocalyptic intensification” of these beliefs was Jewish, but Paul ripped them away from their ethnic, cultic and legal Judean contexts.

  1. Hellenistic philosophies were contrary to conventional thinking

Ordinary civic virtue and conventional values were not the way to “happiness” or the “good life” according to Hellenistic philosophies.

The philosophies taught new ways of thinking, new motivations and desires to cultivate. Asceticism was valued.

The founders of the Hellenistic schools were not married and that Jesus and Paul were not married either. Paul challenged both Gentile and Judean norms of culture. The wisdom of God was set in opposition to both Greek and Jewish values.

Again, the structural similarities with the philosophies are obvious.

  1. Hellenistic philosophies led to a new life, a new orientation of the self, a conversion

Stoics taught that the conversion was instantaneous.

Other philosophies apparently ridiculed this Stoic idea of the way to attain virtue and taught, on the contrary, that virtue could only be attained gradually, over time, through a series of graduated steps.

There is, moreover,a literary tradition that becomes most prominent in the early empire in which writers give vivid descriptions of the turmoil and changes in the soul of those who convert to philosophy. Paul uses exactly the same language for conversion to the gospel.

  1. Hellenistic philosophies required techniques to master and remake one’s self

The philosophies agreed that false beliefs about the world led to people having base desires. They agreed, furthermore, that with right instruction and knowledge adherents could conquer their passions and reorient or reconstitute their souls.

Epicureans, for example, believed that the culprits responsible for misery were fear of death and fear of the gods.

Eradicating these false beliefs and destructive desires might begin with a dramatic reorientation, but typically also required a sustained and conscious process of rehabituation with the help of fellow Epicureans. The early empire seems to have been a time that saw an increasing specification of techniques for self-care and self-scrutiny.

Paul was all a part of this philosophical interest when he admonished his followers to strive for mastery with the determination of athletes seeking to win a prize, to be like him just as he himself imitated Christ. And all of this was done for the sake of the one overarching good, the furtherance of the gospel.

  1. Hellenistic philosophies developed the notion of the wise man

Socrates became an early model. He epitomized the ideal man who could stand up against conventional society and demonstrate remarkable self-mastery. Likewise, the founders of Pyrrhonism, Stoicism, Epicureanism, Cynicism were renowned for their exemplary lives and self-control. As we would expect, myths arose around such figures — Pyrrho, Epicurus, Diogenes the Cynic — to increasingly highlight their excellence of mind and character. Recall the story of Peregrinus who threw himself into the flames to prove how a wise man could remain tranquil even under extreme pain.

Paul, we know, was not beyond listing his own many trials and sufferings to make the same kind of point. And of course we can see the development of the same

  1. Hellenistic philosophies were essentially intellectual activities, renewing the mind Teaching, learning and moral training were central to both Hellenistic philosophical schools and Pauline Christianity.

The existence of Pauline social groups depended on his textual skills, his expertise in forms of esoteric knowledge, and his teaching abilities. In this regard, Paul resembled the teacher of a philosophical school.

Both the schools and Paul’s churches were also vitally concerned with the reading, writing, transmission and interpretation of founding texts. Both were focused on the cerebral sphere. In normative religions the minds were more concentrated on analysing the meaning of the entrails of a sacrificed animal, for example. But in Paul’s churches the central sacrificial meal was the Lord’s Supper and converts were required to examine themselves, their motives, their practices.

Paul instructed his readers to present themselves as living sacrifices; to become anew with the renewing of their minds.

  1. Hellenistic philosophies tended to develop nontraditional (radical) social formations

The focus on both a single principle of good and on mind or character transformation in the different Hellenistic philosophical schools could give rise to experimental and alternative social groupings.

Epicureans looked to the ideal of the originally simple life of the garden, a time when human relations were based on friendship as opposed to the patriarchal and other hierarchical structures that evolved later with urban civilization.

Early Stoic philosophers appear to have been behind a number of political revolutions that attempted to establish more egalitarian societies. Thus, for example,
Zeno’s state had no slavery, marriage, or traditional families. Men and women performed the same occupations, wore the same clothes, exercised naked together, and had sex and children in common. Zeno abolished temples and large public buildings, traditional Greek education, and money. People took common meals, and the glue that held the city together would be rational eros and friendship. 

The second-century Christian, Epiphanes, who tried to institute a community similar to Zeno’s, believed that he was following Paul. 

Later Stoicism shifted to the idea of a world society that transcended cities and might be interpreted in either a conservative or a radical way. 

Philo and Josephus cast the Essenes and Therapeutae as radical philosophical communities.

Comparing Paul’s Christianity with the Hellenistic Philosophical Schools

The above seven characteristics are not just incidental, but relate to what the philosophers and Paul himself understood to be the goods internal to their central practices. . . .

[T]he network of practices that Paul conceived as assemblies of Christ had structural similarities to the Hellenistic philosophies because both organized themselves by similar practices and goals.

The core similar practices they shared were intellectual activities relating to the mind, the self, the character, as per #6 above. Those practices were all directed to one tightly focused and unitary idea of “the good”, as per #1 above.

I have some reservations about Paul’s treatment of Jesus vis-a-vis what we read in the gospels but it would take too long to discuss those points here. So suffice it to say that Paul does present the mind of Christ as the highest good to be emulated or even imbibed. Like the Hellenistic philosophers, Paul inculcated in his followers a single idea of goodness or virtue to which they must always strive and beside which nothing else in life mattered.

Comparing the Jewish philosophical schools

Josephus portrays the Pharisees, Sadducees and Essenes as philosophical schools that stand alongside the gentile Hellenistic philosophical schools. Those Jewish sects, too, are depicted as intellectually focused since they study and interpret sacred texts and teach certain doctrines. Like those other philosophical schools they are each mutually exclusive, distinct from one another as a consequence of being directed totally towards different ideas of “the good” expressed in different core doctrines.

The Pharisees resembled dogmatic Stoics attributing everything to fate and providence;the Sadducees, like the skeptical Epicureans, made humans free and removed God from dealings with the world (Ant. 2.162-166). (p. 96, my formatting and bolding)

We need to keep in mind that Josephus is keen to present his fellow Judeans in the best intellectual light to other nations so we do need caution in how we read his accounts.

“Material goods” versus “mind goods”

Recall from the first post in this series the central place of economics in normative Greek and Roman religions. Worship was an act of reciprocity: the deity bestowed material blessings and the devotees expressed gratitude with offerings and sacrifices at celebratory festivals.

Paul, on the other hand, taught that the acceptable sacrifices to God were “a disciplined body and a renewed mind” (Rom 12:1-2).

Sacrifices and offering in both gentile and Judean worship were typically described as objects of sublime beauty. All the fruits and other produce set out in decorous ways, the animals adorned with ribbons and garlands, the magnificent processions, these were inspiring spectacles.

By contrast, however,Philosophers were known more for their ragged dirty clothes and their foul smell than an aesthetic. If one wants to call it an aesthetic, then theirs was one of dialogue, books, self-mastery, and endurance in suffering.

Take the ritual of the Lord’s Supper

Paul reminds his readers that it is not even about eating or feasting. Eat at home if you are hungry, he says. The food consumed at the Lord’s Supper is merely symbolic. The ritual was an occasion to reflect, to examine oneself, to cultivate appropriate judgment and social bonding through meditation on the teacher’s words.

The Lord’s Supper does not even have an offering or an offerer. In the foundational story, Jesus does give thanks for the food, but no food is given back. Words and thoughts are enough. Philosophers knew that the gods did not need food. . . .

Paul’s social formations resembled those of Hellenistic philosophers because they were productive of “mind goods” in a way that subordinated other goods. In sum, Paul’s groups were constituted by social formations that “exalted” discursive practices over nondiscursive practices and tended to treat nondiscursive practices and affects as valuable to the extent that agents could attribute discursiveness to them (e.g. that eating bread symbolizes X; one’s sufferings indicate that Christ will soon return).

Paul’s ideal did not survive as Christianity grew, as we well know. The conflict of the two ways of life, the material and the intellectual or discursive, was resolved with the “Church” accepting two classes of Christians. There would be the majority who accepted the limited good and were content to follow a conventional lifestyle; and there would be the small elite who lived as monks and ascetics who devoted themselves entirely to the ultimate good and its intellectual practices.

Thus we live with the vestiges of the Hellenistic revolution up until this day.

Three caveats

  1. “Pauline Christianity was not a neat package, fully integrated and consistent.”

I am thinking here of Paul’s shifting back and forth between Jewishness and “Greekness” as we read in his Epistle to the Romans. Presumably Paul’s Christianity would be far more akin to a Hellenistic philosophy in the view of the gentiles given that they were required to give up much more (idolatry, porneia) than Judeans. One imagines that the “Judean Christians” (presumably led by James) may not have recognized anything resembling a Hellenistic philosophy in their worship.

It might be an interesting exercise to re-read Paul’s letters with both Stowers’ chapter and the arguments for the various substantial interpolations into Paul’s letters in mind.

  1. “Hellenistic philosophers tend to associate as friends. In Pauline Christianity, however, one finds the language of fictive kinship.”

Stowers suggests the difference between a Hellenistic philosophy and Paul’s communities here may be more apparent than real. If a family relationship is fictive then it is not a real family relationship. Paul uses throughout the language of friendship to describe ideal relations, so in practice, when Christians called one another “brother” and “sister” they were in fact relating more as close friends than genuinely genetic family.

  1. “Specific rituals play an intrinsic role in Pauline Christianity that they do not for the Hellenistic philosophies”.

Hellenistic philosophical schools, moreover, did not always completely abandon the religious rituals associated with local civic worship practices. Their discursive practices enabled them to embrace such rituals with a more refined understanding.

Further diluting the caveat is the fact that Christian rituals dispensed with animal sacrifice and almost all of the other practices central to ancient ritual, except for public prayer and ritual washing. But in traditional religion, the latter only had its sense in relation to temples and sacred places, where purity had to be maintained in order to sacrifice. Christian ritual in the first two hundred years was an odd sort of ritual by ancient standards. Its form decisively broke the link with land and lineages of peoples that was intrinsic to traditional Mediterranean ritual. (p. 101)

One final point

An observation that what we see with the rise of Hellenistic philosophies is the emergence of a specialist class of teachers and interpreters who appeared to understand specialist knowledge relating to the soul and mind, and the ways to live “the good life”. These specialists replaced the aristocratic leaders of the traditional ways of worship.

Christianity was a new form of religion based on the new shape of knowledge that depended on expert interpreters and teachers like Paul. It is not surprising, then, that Pauline Christianity might in many respects have more in common with the Hellenistic philosophies than with the traditional religions based in the landed aristocracies of Rome, Greece, and Judea.

The Pauline (Paul-Shaul) Christianity never been recognized by Jesus Apostles and Jewish followers of Jesus!The Paul evidently was to much involved in gentile philosophy instead sticking with Jewish teachings of Our Messiah and Lord Jesus-Yeshua.Shalom.

 “Why Are There So Many Differences in the Gospels?”

Poor Ancient Historians

How is this to be explained? Should these discrepancies be regarded as errors? Were the Gospel writers poor historians? Have they told the truth about Jesus?
Such is the strange and mysterious world of New Testament scholarship. How can we explain these bizarre questions?

According to some of today’s most prolific writers in biblical scholarship, the evangelists — the authors of the canonical gospels — were historians and writers of Greco-Roman biographies. They reach these conclusions via embarrassingly obvious cherry-picking, which leaves them with a pile of incongruous evidence, which they feel compelled to explain away.

If the Gospel writers were historians (as scholars desperately want them to be), then the evidence would indicate that they were pretty bad at it. And if they were writing Greco-Roman biographies (despite all the clear indications to the contrary), their works are missing nearly all of their defining characteristics. At the same time, all of the canonical gospels share these same peculiarities.

Consider the following examples. None of the New Testament gospels provides the name of its author. At least two of them copy another gospel, practically word for word, with no indication that the author is quoting a source. The typical Greco-Roman biographer will openly evaluate sources and decide which is more likely to be true. That never happens in the gospels. The material they present is not “probably true”; it is the very embodiment of truth.

Poor Historians of Ancient History

Even the time-honored tradition of sucking all the oxygen out of the room by churning out enormous books that say essentially the same thing in various combinations is, at its heart, a form of misdirection. For if we ever caught our breath and thought calmly for a moment, we would realize that the question is not, “Why do the gospels differ?” but “Why are they alike in so many ways?”

Seen from the perspective of believers, the Gospel of Mark and the Gospel of John are disconcertingly different. On the other hand, if we clear our minds of the anxiety of historicity, we see that Mark and John resemble one another much more than they do any “other” Greco-Roman biography.

Notice that both gospels don’t begin with the birth of the subject (Jesus) or even vignettes from his childhood. Instead, they start with John the Baptist. In fact, both John and Mark have the Baptist utter the very first words of direct speech.

Poor Structures Built on a Poor Foundation

I knew once the “gospel == βίος” idea took root in New Testament studies, we would see a rash of awful books built on a rotten foundation. What I failed to see was just how willing nearly all New Testament scholars would be to embrace it. It most certainly has become a consensus view — to the point where scholars will mention it in passing as a fundamental truism, without wasting their valuable time discussing or defending it.

Only by the clumsiest cherry-picking can we have arrived at this point. Calling attention to a difference and writing it off as a compositional device is scholastic malpractice. Insisting that the evangelists were just employing ancient literary techniques when they changed their sources is a lazy cop-out.

An Early Jewish Christianity By Jews and Paul-Shaul From Tarsus

Stop thinking of the “Jewish Synagogue” as the model for Paul’s churches.We must remember that first-century Jews were Judeans. Interpreters should not, in principle, segregate Judeans from Greeks, Romans, Egyptians, and so on by creating something suspiciously like a modern religion called Judaism. Even Jews who lived permanently in Rome or Alexandria were Judeans living outside of their traditional homeland and therefore similar to Syrians, Greeks, or Egyptians who lived abroad. 

Judean worship was similar to the worship of other gods

Before 70 C.E. Jewish worship, even in the Diaspora, was centrally focussed on the temple in Jerusalem. The great temple festivals, tabernacles, pentecost, passover, were celebrated by Judeans throughout the empire. These were agricultural festivals that celebrated the gifts of produce and livestock that God gave his people, of success in trading and in acquiring the blessings of children.

Temple time with its agriculturally oriented calendar shaped the calendar of the Jews (sic) in general. Pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the festivals and sacrifices was a major feature of the period. Many Judeans of the Diaspora directly participated in the temple cultus sometime during their lives. The temple tax that supported the daily sacrifices in the temple and the first fruit offerings that signified the ancient pattern of reciprocity and divine giving of productivity were among the major yearly efforts of Diaspora communities. 

What of the place of the scriptures? It is generally agreed that the reading of scriptures was a very important for the religious life of Judeans.

The Torah, Prophets, and Psalms are . . . absolutely dominated by the centrality of the temple, priesthood and cult. The epics and myths of Judeans were about land, people, and socio-economic reciprocity with God and other Judeans. . . For Judeans, unlike for Christians, to study scripture was to be oriented toward an actual temple, a place where reciprocity with the divine was enacted in the imagined exchange of produce from the land and shop, womb and market. 

Judean religion was focused on the idea of reciprocal exchange with God. God blessed his people; his people offered sacrifices and gifts and communal worship in return. And the temple was the focus of this exchange. The religion of a Judean living 500 miles from Jerusalem differed little in principle from the one living 20 miles away.

Other cultural groups, those from places other than Judea, throughout the empire, recognized these Judean religious customs as counterparts to their own.

The dominant activities of the temple were sacrificial offerings of grain and animal products. Judeans shared these practices with Greeks, Romans, and most peoples of the Mediterranean world. Josephus proudly proclaims that Judeans share the practices of sacrificing domestic animals with “all the rest of humanity” (Ag. Ap., 2.137). (p. 85, my bolding)

Pauline Christianity did not look like a typical religion

— Paul has no altar to Hephaestus in his shop

— and he does not belong to an association of leather workers with a calendar of sacrificial feasts.

— He does not tell myths about how God or the gods gave human crafts, land, and agricultural skills so that they could possess the goods of human life.

— Nor does he instruct members of his churches to collect first fruits and tithes for the temple in Jerusalem.

— He tells those who have business dealings to act as if they were of no importance (1 Cor 7:30-31).

— He does not see his work as a source of goods for supporting a valued way of life organized as a household, but as an instrument to aid his work in teaching others the Christ myth (1 Cor 9:1-27; 4:11-13; 1 Thess 2:9).” 

Early Christian groups did not look anything like the above religious communities. They lacked temples ties to land animal and other types of sacrifice agricultural festivals or festivals for other types of productivity.

They also lacked rituals and other practices related to intergenerational continuity, not having rituals for birth and death sacrificial practices related to purification from birth and death pollution sacred spaces, i.e. altars, so that purity and pollution became moral metaphors nothing like circumcision no marriage rituals or sacrifices (Paul did not even encourage marriage!)

All that is missing here constituted the heart of ancient religion.

Such practices contributed towards ethnic identification. Earliest Christianity did not emulate contemporary religious praxis. Paul’s Christians organized themselves differently.So did the followers of Hellenistic philosophies.

Dating the Oldest New Testament Manuscripts

The New Testament text we read in our English Bibles is based on the original Greek text. We know this text, albeit imperfectly, through a large number of ancient manuscripts. All these manuscripts are mere copies, and the great majority of them are copies of copies, yet ultimately they all derive from the originals. In the process of copying, however, scribal errors are bound to occur. There is not a single copy wholly free from mistakes. A science called textual criticism deals systematically with these mistakes to eliminate as many of them as possible. The most important tools for textual critics are the manuscripts themselves.

In the sixteenth century the Greek New Testament was published for the first time in printed form. The great Dutch philologist Desiderius Erasmus of Rotterdam had established a text from a handful of manuscripts dating from the later Middle Ages. Unfortunately he used only manuscripts of inferior quality for his edition of 1516. A few verses from the Apocalypse were lacking in the manuscripts at his disposal. He simply re-translated them from the current Latin version! Erasmus’ intention with his edition was to provide a basis for a new Latin translation of the New Testament. The Reformers used it to produce vernacular translations of their own.

Until the nineteenth century New Testament scholars and translators availed themselves only sparingly of other manuscripts. Then, within a fairly short period, a number of manuscripts of superior quality became available, mainly thanks to the work of the German scholar Constantin Tischendorf. These manuscripts dated from the fourth and fifth centuries and presented a text that was at least free from the accretions of a later age. We had to wait, however, until the 70’s and 80’s of the nineteenth century for new critical editions of the New Testament.

Tischendorf himself and the British scholars Westcott and Hort produced two rival editions of the Greek text. They believed that their text reflected the original as well as possible, even if it was based on manuscripts dating from at least three centuries after the New Testament was written. Gradually the new critical texts replaced Erasmus’ text, which has not received much attention from serious scholars anymore. Thousands more ancient Greek manuscripts of the New Testament have become known in the past 100 years. Monastery libraries in countries around the Mediterranean have yielded most of the manuscripts. The textual critics of the Greek New Testament have been able to come to terms with only a few of them. Most of them are not very old manuscripts anyhow, and in textual criticism it is age and quality that counts, not mere quantity.

In the 30’s and 60’s of the twentieth century a number of other, very important manuscripts have become available. We owe this to the efforts of two wealthy book collectors, Chester Beatty and Martin Bodmer. These manuscripts are of a special class for two reasons. They are written on papyrus and date from well before the fourth century. The earliest papyrus manuscripts come very close to the time when the New Testament was written. Of course, manuscripts on papyrus were known before, but these dated from a much later period and tended to be rather fragmentary. For almost all New Testament books we now have manuscripts earlier than the fourth century.

How do we know these manuscripts are so very early? How do we know their dates for certain? Some of you may think “scientific” tests on the physical structure of the papyrus may yield such dates. In fact they cannot, because such tests are very inaccurate. No, we can date papyrus manuscripts, any manuscript for that matter, simply by looking at the way it is written. Handwriting is a product of human culture and as such it is always developing. Differences in handwriting are bound to appear within one generation. Just compare the handwriting of your parents with your own. Or look at your own scribblings of a few years ago. It is the same handwriting as today but an expert, a paleographer, can distinguish not unimportant differences. He cannot establish the exact date but he can confidently place one handwriting in the 30’s and another in the 80’s. Even printed texts can easily be dated according to the outward appearance of the type or font used by the printer.

For such an ancient period as that between A.D. 100 and 300 it is of course much more difficult to be confident about the date of a manuscript. There is infinitely less comparative material. Nevertheless we are now in a fairly comfortable position to date papyrus manuscripts according to their handwriting. We do not have to rely on manuscripts of the New Testament only. We have hundreds of papyrus manuscripts of Greek pagan literary texts from this period and again hundreds of carefully written papyrus documents that show the same types of handwriting. These documents are very important for paleographers because they are often exactly dated. As a rule New Testament manuscripts on papyrus are not. A careful comparison of the papyrus documents and manuscripts of the second and third centuries has established beyond doubt that about forty Greek papyrus manuscripts of the New Testament date from this very period. Unfortunately only six of them are extensively preserved.
Even within the period that runs from c. A.D. 100-300 it is possible for paleographers to be more specific on the relative date of the papyrus manuscripts of the New Testament. For about sixty years now a tiny papyrus fragment of the Gospel of John has been the oldest “manuscript” of the New Testament. This manuscript (P52) has generally been dated to ca. A.D. 125. This fact alone proved that the original Gospel of John was written earlier, viz. in the first century A.D., as had always been upheld by conservative scholars.

We now have early and very early evidence for the text of the New Testament. A classified list of the most important manuscripts will make this clear. Numbers preceded by a P refer to papyri, the letters refer to parchment manuscripts.

ca. A.D. 200 250 300 350 450

Matthew P45 B Sin.       

Mark P45 B Sin. A

Luke P4,P45,P75 B Sin. A

John P66 P45,P75 B Sin. A

Acts P45 B Sin. A

Romans-Hebrews P46 B Sin. A

James-Jude P72,B Sin. A

Apocalypse P47 Sin. A

As you can see, from the fourth century onwards the material base for establishing the text of the Greek New Testament is very good indeed. The manuscripts Sin. (Sinaiticus), A (Alexandrinus) and B (Vaticanus) are almost complete parchment manuscripts. With the help of the earlier papyrus manuscripts we have been able to establish that the text of these three great manuscripts is to a large extent reliable. The papyrus manuscript P75 was the latest to be published, but it showed a virtually identical text to manuscript B. This settled the vexed question whether we have in the parchment manuscripts of the fourth and fifth centuries a safe guide to the original text of the New Testament. We have.

That is not to say that we can dispense with later manuscripts of the New Testament. With the exception of Sin. the oldest manuscripts are not complete. Moreover they contain scribal errors of all sorts. P46 is a case in point: it is the manuscript with the largest percentage of blunders on record! Most of this kind of errors can, however, be removed by comparing the readings of the oldest manuscripts. The remaining puzzles can only be solved by taking later manuscripts into account. Most of the work in textual criticism in the past forty years has been done by Kurt Aland in Münster and Bruce Metzger in Princeton. The latest translations of the New Testament are based on their work.

It is to be noticed that all the manuscripts listed above come from Egypt. The papyri were found there in the twentieth century. They are now in Dublin, Ann Arbor, Cologny (in Switzerland), the Vatican and Vienna. Sin. was found in a monastery library on the slopes of Mount Sinai in the nineteenth century and brought to St. Petersburg. In 1933 it was sold to the British Museum in London for a mere 100,000 pounds. A was transferred from the patriarchal library at Alexandria in the seventeenth century and is now also in the British Library. B has been in the Vatican since the Middle Ages. We owe the early Egyptian Christians an immense debt. Those who are fortunate enough to be able to work with part of their heritage count their blessings every day.

Bibliography (all except the last two items contain illustrations of manuscripts):

E.G. Turner, Greek Manuscripts of the Ancient World (1987)

G. Cavallo & H. Maehler, Greek Bookhands of the Early Byzantine Period (1987): a sequel to the preceding item

C.H. Roberts, Greek Literary Hands (1956): on the dating of manuscripts with the aid of contemporary documents

G. Cavallo, Ricerche sulla maiuscola biblica (1967): on the style of writing of the great parchment manuscripts of the fourth and fifth centuries

K. Aland, Der Text des Neuen Testaments (1982) = The Text of the New Testament (1987)

J. Finegan, Encountering New Testament Manuscripts (1974)

B.M. Metzger, Manuscripts of the Greek Bible (1981)

W.H.P. Hatch, The Principal Uncial Manuscripts of the New Testament (1939)
H.J.M. Milne & T.C. Skeat, Scribes and Correctors of the Codex Sinaiticus (1938)

D.C. Parker, Codex Bezae (1992): on the idiosyncratic manuscript D

G. Zuntz, The Text of the Epistles (1956): on P46

C.H. Roberts, Manuscript, Society and Belief in Early Christian Egypt (1979)

A Brief History of the King James Bible

As the reign of Elizabeth (1558-1603) was coming to a close, we find a draft for an act of Parliament for a new version of the Bible: “An act for the reducing of diversities of bibles now extant in the English tongue to one settled vulgar translated from the original.” The Bishop’s Bible of 1568, although it may have eclipsed the Great Bible, was still rivaled by the Geneva Bible. Nothing ever became of this draft during the reign of Elizabeth, who died in 1603, and was succeeded by James 1, as the throne passed from the Tudors to the Stuarts. James was at that time James VI of Scotland, and had been for thirty-seven years. He was born during the period between the Geneva and the Bishop’s Bible.

One of the first things done by the new king was the calling of the Hampton Court Conference in January of 1604 “for the hearing, and for the determining, things pretended to be amiss in the church.” Here were assembled bishops, clergymen, and professors, along with four Puritan divines, to consider the complaints of the Puritans. Although Bible revision was not on the agenda, the Puritan president of Corpus Christi College, John Reynolds, “moved his Majesty, that there might be a new translation of the Bible, because those which were allowed in the reigns of Henry the eighth, and Edward the sixth, were corrupt and not answerable to the truth of the Original.”

The king rejoined that he: 

“Could never yet see a Bible well translated in English; but I think that, of all, that of Geneva is the worst. I wish some special pains were taken for an uniform translation, which should be done by he best learned men in both Universities, then reviewed by the Bishops, presented to the Privy Council, lastly ratified by the Royal authority, to be read in the whole Church, and none other.”

Accordingly, a resolution came forth:

“That a translation be made of the whole Bible, as consonant as can be to the original Hebrew and Greek; and this to be set out and printed, without any marginal notes, and only to be used in all churches of England in time of divine service.”

The next step was the actual selection of the men who were to perform the work. In July of 1604, James wrote to Bishop Bancroft that he had “appointed certain learned men, to the number of four and fifty, for the translating of the Bible.” These men were the best biblical scholars and linguists of their day. In the preface to their completed work it is further stated that “there were many chosen, that were greater in other men’s eyes than in their own, and that sought the truth rather than their own praise. Again, they came or were thought to come to the work, learned, not to learn.” Other men were sought out, according to James, “so that our said intended translation may have the help and furtherance of all our principal learned men within this our kingdom.”

Although fifty-four men were nominated, only forty-seven were known to have taken part in the work of translation. The translators were organized into six groups, and met respectively at Westminster, Cambridge, and Oxford. Ten at Westminster were assigned Genesis through 2 Kings; seven had Romans through Jude. At Cambridge, eight worked on 1 Chronicles through Ecclesiastes, while seven others handled the Apocrypha. Oxford employed seven to translate Isaiah through Malachi; eight occupied themselves with the Gospels, Acts, and Revelation. 

Fifteen general rules were advanced for the guidance of the translators:

  1. The ordinary Bible read in the Church, commonly called the Bishops Bible, to be followed, and as little altered as the Truth of the original will permit.

  2. The names of the Prophets, and the Holy Writers, with the other Names of the Text, to be retained, as nigh as may be, accordingly as they were vulgarly used. 

  3. The Old Ecclesiastical Words to be kept, viz. the Word Church not to be translated Congregation &c. 

  4. When a Word hath divers Significations, that to be kept which hath been most commonly used by the most of the Ancient Fathers, being agreeable to the Propriety of the Place, and the Analogy of the Faith. 

  5. The Division of the Chapters to be altered, either not at all, or as little as may be, if Necessity so require. 

  6. No Marginal Notes at all to be affixed, but only for the explanation of the Hebrew or Greek Words, which cannot without some circumlocution, so briefly and fitly be expressed in the Text. 

  7. Such Quotations of Places to be marginally set down as shall serve for the fit Reference of one Scripture to another. 

  8. Every particular Man of each Company, to take the same Chapter or Chapters, and having translated or amended them severally by himself, where he thinketh good, all to meet together, confer what they have done, and agree for their Parts what shall stand. 

  9. As any one Company hath dispatched any one Book in this Manner they shall send it to the rest, to be considered of seriously and judiciously, for His Majesty is very careful in this Point. 

  10. If any Company, upon the Review of the Book so sent, doubt or differ upon any Place, to send them Word thereof; note the Place, and withal send the Reasons, to which if they consent not, the Difference to be compounded at the general Meeting, which is to be of the chief Persons of each Company, at the end of the Work. 

  11. When any Place of special Obscurity is doubted of, Letters to be directed by Authority, to send to any Learned Man in the Land, for his Judgement of such a Place. 

  12. Letters to be sent from every Bishop to the rest of his Clergy, admonishing them of this Translation in hand; and to move and charge as many skilful in the Tongues; and having taken pains in that kind, to send his particular Observations to the Company, either at Westminster, Cambridge, or Oxford. 

  13. The Directors in each Company, to be the Deans of Westminster, and Chester for that Place; and the King’s Professors in the Hebrew or Greek in either University. 

  14. These translations to be used when they agree better with the Text than the Bishops Bible: Tyndale’s, Matthew’s, Coverdale’s, Whitchurch’s, Geneva. 

  15. Besides the said Directors before mentioned, three or four of the most Ancient and Grave Divines, in either of the Universities, not employed in Translating, to be assigned by the vice-Chancellor, upon Conference with the rest of the Heads, to be Overseers of the Translations as well Hebrew as Greek, for the better observation of the 4th Rule above specified. 

The work began to take shape in 1604 and progressed steadily. The translators expressed their early thoughts in their preface as:

“Truly (good Christian Reader) we never thought from the beginning, that we should need to make a new Translation, nor yet to make of a bad one a good one,…but to make a good one better, or out of many good ones, one principal good one, not justly to be excepted against, that hath been our endeavor.”

They had at their disposal all the previous English translations to which they did not disdain:

“We are so far off from condemning any of their labors that travailed before us in this kind, either in this land or beyond sea, either in King Henry’s time, or King Edward’s…or Queen Elizabeth’s of ever renowned memory, that we acknowledge them to have been raised up of God, for the building and furnishing of his Church, and that they deserve to be had of us and of posterity in everlasting remembrance.”

And, as the translators themselves also acknowledged, they had a multitude of sources from which to draw from: “Neither did we think much to consult the Translators or Commentators, CHaldee, Hebrew, Syrian, Greek, or Latin, no nor the Spanish, French, Italian, or Dutch.” The Greek editions of Erasmus, Stephanus, and Beza were all accessible, as were the COmplutensian and Antwerp Polyglots, and the Latin translations of Pagninus, Termellius, and Beza.

Four years were spent on the preliminary translation by the six groups. The translators were exacting and particular in their work, as related in their preface:

Neither did we disdain to revise that which we had done, and to bring back to the anvil that which we had hammered: but having and using as great helps as were needful, and fearing no reproach for slowness, nor coveting praise for expedition, we have at the length, through the good hand of the Lord upon us, brought the work to that pass that you see.

The conferences of each of the six being ended, nine months were spent at Stationers’ Hall in London for review and revision of the work by two men each from the Westminster, Cambridge, and Oxford companies. The final revision was then completed by Myles Smith and Thomas Bilson, with a preface supplied by Smith.

The completed work was issued in 1611, the complete title page reading:

“THE HOLY BIBLE, Conteyning the Old Testament, and the New: Newly Translated out of the Originall tongues: & with the former Translations diligently compared and revised, by his Majesties Special Commandment. Appointed to be read in Churches. Imprinted at London by Robert Barker, Printer to the Kings most Excellent Majestie. ANNO DOM. 1611.”

The New Testament had a separate title page, the whole of it reading: 

“THE NEWE Testament of our Lord and Saviour JESUS CHRIST. Newly Translated out of the Originall Greeke: and with the former Translations diligently compared and revised, by his Majesties speciall Commandment. IMPRINTED at London by Robert Barker, Printer to the Kings most Excellent Majestie. ANNO DOM. 1611. Cum Privilegio.”

The King James Bible was, in its first editions, even larger than the Great Bible. It was printed in black letter with small italicized Roman type to represent those words not in the original languages.

A dedicatory epistle to King James, which also enhanced the completed work, recalled the King’s desire that “there should be one more exact Translation of the Holy Scriptures into the English tongue.” The translators expressed that they were “poor instruments to make GOD’S holy Truth to be yet more and more known” while at the same time recognizing that “Popish persons” sought to keep the people “in ignorance and darkness.”

The Authorized Version, as it came to be called, went through several editions and revisions. Two notable editions were that of 1629, the first ever printed at Cambridge, and that of 1638, also at Cambridge, which was assisted by John Bois and Samuel Ward, two of the original translators. In 1657, the Parliament considered another revision, but it came to naught. The most important editions were those of the 1762 Cambridge revision by Thomas Paris, and the 1769 Oxford revision by Benjamin Blayney. One of the earliest concrdances was A Concordance to the Bible of the Last Translation, by John Down-ham, affixed to a printing of 1632.

The Authorized Version eclipsed all previous versions of the Bible. The Geneva Bible was last printed in 1644, but the notes continued to be published with the King James text. Subsequent versions of the Bible were likewise eclipsed, for the Authorized Version was the Bible until the advent of the Revised Version and ensuing modern translations. It is still accepted as such by its defenders, and recognized as so by its detractors. Alexander Geddes (d. 1802), a Roman Catholic priest, who in 1792 issued the first colume of his own translation of the Bible, accordingly paid tribute to the Bible of his time: 

“The highest eulogiums have been made on the translation of James the First, both by our own writers and by foreigners. And, indeed, if accuracy, fidelity, and the strictest attention to the letter of the text, be supposed to constitute the qualities of an excellent version, this of all versions, must, in general, be accounted the most excellent. Every sentence, every work, every syllable, every letter and point, seem to have been weighed with the nicest exactitude; and expressed, either in the text, or margin, with the greatest precision.”

As to whether the Authorized Version was ever officially “authorized,” Brooke Westcott, one of the members of the committee that produced the Revised Version, and the editor, with Fenton Hort, of an edition of the Greek New Testament, stated that:

From the middle of the seventeenth century, the King’s Bible has been the acknowledged Bible of the English-speaking nations throughout the world simply because it is the best. A revision which embodied the ripe fruits of nearly a century of labour, and appealed to the religious instinct of a great Christian people, gained by its own internal character a vital authority which could never have been secured by any edict of sovereign rulers.