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Dubious scholarship reinterprets Jesus to fit secular creed
by Graeme J. Davidson,
6 December 2008

Yet some liberal and secular New Testament scholars believe scriptures like the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas or a possible lost source document known as Q that focus on Jesus’ sayings in a simple, direct style must be more historically authentic than other scripture. Why? Because that’s the theory that best fits these scholars’ secular take on religion.

.... Whenever I ask Christians to tell me about the church they belong to, no one waxes lyrical about stained glass windows, clergy or sermons. They lead with what they think their church believes and what it’s trying to achieve. And the first Christians were no different. They focused on the significance of Jesus’ life and death and how that affected humanity.
.... That’s why the very earliest Christian writings include statements about Jesus’ divinity, like the creed the infant church is already using which St Paul quotes in his letter to the Philippians around 25 years after Jesus’ death. It says that Jesus had the nature of God.
....The heated debates over Jesus’ divinity in the following centuries were about how to express that divinity, not whether he was divine.
....Yet some liberal and secular New Testament scholars believe scriptures like the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas or a possible lost source document known as Q that focus on Jesus’ sayings in a simple, direct style must be more historically authentic than other scripture. Why? Because that’s the theory that best fits these scholars’ secular take on religion. They claim the early Christians reinvented Jesus the man as a mythologized divine Christ who fitted their hopes and aspirations, especially when they wrote about him in the four gospels.
....That’s the line Ian Harris ran in his last Honest to God column (Nov 22). Harris draws on journalist and humanist Quaker David Boulton’s foray into Biblical scholarship in a book Who on earth was Jesus? Boulton previously edited Godless for God's Sake, a book of essays by non-theist Quakers. That’s a clue as to how he might view Jesus’ divinity.
....Harris says most scholars agree that the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke rely on an earlier document, the lost Q source. Not true. When I researched for a book I wrote about Q, I found hardly any modern scholars saying Mark copied from Q. Most said Mark was an original source and Matthew and Luke copied from Mark and then gave his writings their own spin.
.... Many suggest Matthew and Luke copied about 25 percent of their material from Q, which, if it existed (and some reputable scholars believe it didn’t), was written at approximately the same time as Mark’s Gospel. And Mark’s Gospel tells how Jesus told his disciples he was the Christ, or God’s Messiah, fulfilling a divine mission.
....Harris quotes Boulton on how scholars have used their forensic tools to examine mostly second century documents and how they offer little information on the historical Jesus. That’s because the first followers of the historical Jesus where more interested in telling others what he meant to them.
.... The first Christian writings are St Paul’s letters written around 16 to 30 years after Jesus’ death. Paul tells us how he met Jesus’ family and his close disciples. From these encounters and his own experiences, he tells readers why Jesus is important – how it is through faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ that humanity can attain salvation from God.
....The earliest copy of a Christian text we have, known as P52, dates back to the early second century. It contains four verses from John’s gospel. But, like all our biblical documents, it’s a copy of earlier copies. There may well have been texts with Jesus’ sayings in circulation in the first century. But to claim that no-longer existing texts which some scholars think they can detect in the gospels are historically more authentic than the earliest writings about what Jesus and his first followers said about his divinity and godly mission requires one giant leap of dubious scholarly faith.
....Sure, the gospels are written with this Jesus is God mindset. Even the two stories of Jesus’ birth are there to illustrate that God came amongst us. But gospel writers aren’t the only ones with a particular religious mindset. It seems secular theologians want to reinterpret and diminish the importance of the divine nature of Jesus to fit their secular creed.




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